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Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


Reed College has been awarded a grant of $200,000 from the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles toward equipment for computational laboratories in biology and chemistry. The development of these two facilities is part of a project to incorporate "virtual laboratory simulations" into Reed's science curriculum. This project will significantly contribute to Reed's campus-wide effort to enhance the learning environment through innovative uses of computer technology.

"We are grateful for the continuing generosity of the W.M. Keck Foundation and what they have made possible," said Reed President Steven Koblik. "This grant will enable students to become engaged in the research process, the crux of effective learning in the sciences, at critical stages in their studies."

In these virtual laboratories, students will use sophisticated computer simulations to learn and apply fundamental scientific principles to research-type activities. The two basic types of simulation are replication--which duplicates a traditional wet lab to allow students to design, run, and analyze the results of experiments that might be impractical in a real lab--and visualization, which creates pictorial representation of phenomena, such as sub-microscopic entities, that are not directly observable in any lab setting. The biology virtual laboratory, using replication techniques, will focus on computer simulation of molecular genetics research experiments.

The chemistry virtual laboratory, using visualization techniques, will focus on four concepts: molecular structure and properties, structure and properties of extended solids, dynamic behavior of gas molecules, and equilibrium and kinetics--systems undergoing chemical change. "This grant will allow us to more than double the capability of our lab," said Alan Shusterman, associate professor of chemistry. "Now students will be able to use the computers in their first year."

The direct advantages of the virtual laboratories include expanded student access, because the computerized labs will be available for use 24 hours a day; scientific currency, as computer simulations are playing an increasingly prominent role in scientific research; efficient use of resources, in that a virtual lab requires much less financial and staff support; and increased opportunity for independent student research, which will now be limited only by the availability of computer hardware and the flexibility of the simulation software.

Several Reed faculty members will be working closely on the virtual labs. Margret J. Geselbracht, assistant professor of chemistry, is an active researcher in materials chemistry, focusing on the synthesis of new transition metal oxides with interesting electronic and magnetic properties; she has used computer modeling in both her teaching of basic and inorganic chemistry and her research. Arthur Glasfeld, assistant professor of chemistry, has been teaching structural biochemistry by using molecular computer modeling for many years. Robert H. Kaplan, professor of biology, researches maternal influences on embryonic development; he was instrumental in introducing computational techniques as a formal component of undergraduate education in biology. Peter J. Russell, professor of biology and author of the widely used textbooks Genetics and Fundamentals of Genetics (HarperCollins), studies the life cycle of double-stranded RNA viruses in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Alan J. Shusterman, associate professor of chemistry, focuses his research on chemical reaction mechanisms and the development of computer modeling tools for teaching; this has resulted in two books, including Experiments in Computational Organic Chemistry (Wavefunction Press).

Reed and the sciences

Since its founding in 1909, Reed College has pursued an educational model based on independent student research, a faculty deeply committed to teaching as well as research, extensive faculty/student contact, and the provision of a well-equipped learning environment. Typically, a third of Reed's graduates receive degrees in the sciences each year, roughly half of whom continue on to earn advanced degrees. The exceptional quality of Reed's science programs and the impact of emphasizing the acquisition of research skills is reflected in the fact that Reed is first among colleges of the liberal arts and sciences--and third among all colleges and universities in the country--in the percentage of its graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences.

Reed's emphasis on student research, from introductory courses to the culminating senior exercise, changes the customary role of faculty from one of lecturer to one of mentor and collaborator. Reed continues to be distinctive among colleges of the liberal arts and sciences through its mandatory senior thesis program which, in the sciences, involves laboratory research performed in close collaboration with a faculty member. A significant portion of the thesis work done by students is published in scholarly journals or presented at professional meetings. As a result, Reed ranks among the highest-output, most-cited, and highest-impact colleges in the sciences in a recent analysis of research publications from undergraduate liberal arts colleges.

The W.M. Keck Foundation was founded in 1954 by the late William M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation's primary goal is to strengthen research and educational programs in institutions of higher learning in the areas of sciences, engineering, and medical research.