An inside look at science as it’s discovered

By Theresa Evans 

A student measures a liquid called TAE buffer as part of an experiment in room 259 of the Science building.
A student measures a liquid called TAE buffer as part of an experiment in room 259 of the Science building.

Scientific researchers discussing “how they actually execute their science projects and discover interesting things” will highlight the science learning community’s new program, Science Fridays, according to the first speaker.

Dr. Jackie Faherty, Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, spoke on April 1 at the program, which promises a new guest speaker each week to give presentations on a variety of science-related topics.

“I think that this is an excellent opportunity for Rider’s science majors and minors to get a taste of how the academic research world works,” Faherty said. “At the seminar, you are hearing science that is in the peer review process, so it’s happening right now. There hasn’t been time for it to reach your textbooks yet. I think students should come to these seminars and listen for the process by which science is done.”

More than 70 people attended Faherty’s presentation, said Dr. John Bochanski, assistant professor of physics. The seminars are open to everyone, though mostly advertised to majors in the natural sciences. The science community encourages more students to attend, and some can even receive college credit.

“Students can sign up for a one-credit pass/fail class that meets prior to each seminar,” Bochanski said. “We discuss a paper provided by the speaker that will be featured in the seminar. This way, the students will have seen some of the material already and will be more engaged and attentive.

According to Dr. Daniel Druckenbrod, director of sustainability and associate professor, the goal of Science Fridays is to promote interdisciplinary thinking among students and faculty in the sciences.

“Great insights have come in science from reaching outside one’s own discipline of study,” Druckenbrod said. “We plan to host one speaker, selected by each of the four science departments, every semester. These speakers present on cutting-edge topics such as exoplanets and climate change.”

“We ask each department to host at least one speaker and try to make sure they invite speakers who are working with undergraduates and can give a good presentation understandable by a wide range of science majors, which is not very easy to do,” Bochanki said.

The guest speakers for the Spring 2016 semester range from Yalan Xing, Ph.D., assistant professor at William Paterson University, to Rider alum Jennifer Sliko, ’00, Ph.D., lecturer in earth sciences at Penn State Harrisburg.

“I give seminars very often, all over the U.S. and beyond,” Faherty said. “I found Rider’s to be unique in that the students were the primary targets and showed up in large numbers on a sunny day that happened to be a Friday. Rarely do I see that kind of dedication.”

“Rider students asked some excellent questions and seemed to comprehend a lot of the material that I presented,” she said. “I would give this experience an A+.”

According to Druckenbrod, undecided students can benefit from these lectures, and students already within the science program can broaden their knowledge across several disciplines.

“Students from all science majors can learn about other areas of scientific progress,” he said. “When Dr. Bochanski arrived and expressed interest in hosting physics seminars, we realized we had a good opportunity to grow these seminars into something larger that would benefit all science majors and faculty at Rider University. Attending these talks is also a great way to explore interests in different science disciplines for students who are still deciding on a major or minor. Students also have the opportunity to meet with visiting scientists in a small group setting over lunch to learn about their careers.”

Although this program just began, Bochanski sees potential for growth as education continues.

“I am hoping that this seminar will become a tradition in the Science building,” Bochanski said. “A way for the faculty and students to mark the end of the week and learn something new. We are absolutely planning to continue it next year.”

For more information, visit http://www.rider.edu/events/science-fridays or follow Dr. Bochanski via Twitter @jbocha.

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