Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Spring 2010 Vol. 105 No. 3 OAM Home | Oberlin Online

The Strength
of Science

President Marvin Krislov

From the very beginning, science was an important part of an Oberlin education. In 1834, the year after Oberlin’s founding, James Dascomb, a graduate of the Dartmouth Medical School, was named professor of chemistry, botany, and physiology. The 19th century saw the evolution of our tradition of students and faculty collaborating on research. That led to Charles Martin Hall inventing in 1886 a process for inexpensively producing aluminum, the most widely used metal of the modern era. Hall worked closely on that discovery with his teacher and mentor, Professor of Chemistry Frank Fanning Jewett.

Over the years, our students and teachers have earned many honors in almost every field of scientific endeavor. Three of our graduates have been awarded the Nobel Prize: Robert Millikan, Class of 1891, in physics, and Roger Sperry ’35, and Stanley Cohen ’45, in medicine/physiology. Physicist Ralf Hotchkiss ’69, biologist Richard Lenski ’76, atmospheric scientist Paul O. Wennberg ’85, and Diane Meier ’73, a physician specializing in palliative care, have been awarded MacArthur Fellowships, the so-called genius grants. D.A. Henderson ’50 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for heading the World Health Organization team that eradicated smallpox worldwide. Stuart Card ’66 was named a Franklin Institute Laureate in 2007 for his contributions to computing.

The strength and rigor of Oberlin’s science programs has earned us a stellar reputation with graduate programs. More Oberlin graduates go on to earn Ph.Ds than graduates of any other liberal arts college in the country, and one-quarter of those alumni earn their doctorates in the hard sciences.

One thing that makes studying science here so remarkable is Oberlin’s wonderful tradition of interdisciplinary study. At Oberlin, there is a symbiotic relationship between the various branches of science, as well as between the sciences and the arts and humanities.

That same collaborative spirit can be seen today in the mentoring Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Manish Mehta gave to Lisa Goddard and Jaie Woodard, who recently received prestigious Goldwater Scholarships. Lisa is a fourth-year double-degree student from Colorado majoring in biology and violin performance. She plans to pursue a PhD in physiology, focusing on the neuromuscular aspects of instrumental music performance. She has performed research with Associate Professor of Biology Taylor Allen. Jaie is a fourth-year double-degree student from Michigan, majoring in physics and French horn performance. She also conducted research with Mehta and hopes to pursue a PhD in computational biophysics after graduation.

We would love to hear more from other members of the Oberlin family involved in science. And we congratulate all of our science students, faculty and alumni on their myriad achievements.