State Approves New Multidisciplinary Program at Rensselaer

January 11, 2001

Troy, N.Y. — A new multidisciplinary science degree program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been approved by the New York State Department of Education.

The program, the first of its kind in New York state, will offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in multidisciplinary science.

“These new degrees in multidisciplinary science are designed to meet the needs of today’s graduates who require a more diversified background to compete effectively in industrial or governmental occupations that are multidisciplinary in nature,” says Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson.

The degrees are designed for a new breed of student whose interests overlap several disciplines, says Samuel Wait, associate dean of science. “We can custom-make a program with all the right courses and a dissertation that spans different areas,” he says.

For instance, those who want a career in pharmaceutical research could design a degree concentrated in biology, computational sciences, and chemistry. Those who want to go into the field of microchip manufacturing could create a degree with courses in chemistry, materials engineering, electrical engineering, and physics.

Nicolle Zellner, who earned her bachelor’s in astronomy, physics and math at the University of Wisconsin and her master’s at Rensselaer, is a pioneer of the new Multidisciplinary Science Program.

Her Ph.D. work revolves around researching the impact of the history of the earth-moon system and the implication of the origin and sustainability of life on Earth.

“I’ve been waiting for two years to see if this program was going to be approved,” Zellner says. “My research is in lunar geochemistry and studies in the origins of life. I found the multidisciplinary nature of the new program, with so many different topics, applies to what I’m interested in. It takes biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and physics for kind of research I’m involved with. The physics program didn’t allow me to be that broad.”

Zellner’s dream is to be a researcher in NASA’s astrobiology program, which focuses on finding out what conditions are needed to allow life to exist outside our planet.

She says she has a better chance of fulfilling that dream by having a broad background obtained through the Multidisciplinary Science Program and she thinks that NASA will find her education and research skills more attractive.

Contact: Jodi Ackerman
Phone: (518) 276-6531
E-mail: N/A

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