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    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  Aug 21, 2017
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Rensselaer Catalog 2017-2018

School of Science

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Dean: Curt M. Breneman

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs: David L. Spooner

Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs: Christian M. Wetzel

Director of Information Technology and Web Science: Peter Fox

Institute Professor: E. Bruce Watson

School of Science Home Page:

The realm of science is a constantly growing and expanding field. Today, more and faster than ever before, new and exciting discoveries are augmenting human knowledge of this world and the vast reaches beyond it. As always, Rensselaer faculty and graduates are leading the way in making many of these important discoveries.

Science and mathematics have been at the heart of Rensselaer since its founding, and most important to maintaining this tradition has been the Institute’s commitment to anticipating and generating advancements in all aspects of these fields. Curricula are constantly reviewed and revised to incorporate new discoveries and knowledge. Emphasis is placed on undergraduate research.

Today, Rensselaer prepares students for a wide variety of careers in the firmly established areas of mathematics and the natural sciences while forging ahead to develop excellent new programs in the emerging fields of information technology, “Big Data” analytics, and Web science. Innovations in our curricula and teaching methods are designed to produce graduates who meet the high demand for scientists in these areas. Rensselaer’s modern research infrastructure and facilities continue our commitment to attracting and nurturing some of the best academic talent in the world.

Indeed, the School of Science faculty consists of some of the world’s most highly educated and accomplished scientists. Included among them are a Nobel laureate and two National Academy members. In addition, many are fellows in their professional societies, and all have achieved the highest attainable degree in their fields.

At Rensselaer, this esteemed faculty works closely with undergraduates through both instructional and research programs. Rensselaer has a long-standing commitment to undergraduate teaching, and Rensselaer professors have authored some of the most widely used science and mathematics textbooks.

At the graduate level, Rensselaer’s School of Science offers opportunities to conduct research in a wide range of areas. These include applied mathematics; astrophysics; biocomputation; biophysics; the chemistry and physics of electronic, optical, and structural materials; bioorganic and biophysical chemistry; environmental science; earth science; mathematical modeling; parallel computation; networking; pervasive computing; computer imaging and vision; scientific computation; and data science.

Enhancing these research opportunities are the many Rensselaer facilities that expose students to highly advanced equipment and technology. Among the Institute’s state-of-the-art computational and laboratory equipment are supercomputers for high performance computation, experimental computer network facilities, electron microprobes for surface analysis, molecular beam epitaxy for growing innovative electronic and optical materials, and automated X-ray facilities for studying the structure of crystals. Also impressive are Rensselaer’s computer vision and robotics laboratories, as well as the immersive data visualization research environments within the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies houses state-of-the-art instrumentation for biomedical research.

The research activities of many School of Science faculty members are conducted within Rensseler’s major interdisciplinary research centers, including the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA), the Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems (cMDIS), the Nanotechnology Center, the Scientific Computation Research Center (SCOREC), the Center for Computational Innovations, and the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks.

Also providing unique opportunities for students are a number of School of Science administered research centers. These include the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin ‘40 Fresh Water Institute, the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, the New York Center for Astrobiology, the Rensselaer Exploratory Center for Cheminformatics Research (RECCR), the Center for Inverse Problems at RPI, and the Baruch ‘60 Center for Biochemical Solar Energy Research. These centers engage graduate and undergraduate students alike in leading-edge research activities.

These centers complement the programs offered through the six departments within the School of Science. These departments are Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Computer Science, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, and Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy. Additionally, the school administers the interdisciplinary Information Technology and Web Science Program and offers a full complement of interdisciplinary degree programs such as Biochemistry/Biophysics that are described in detail under Interdisciplinary Degree Programs later in this section and in the Information Technology and Web Science section of this catalog.

Degrees Offered and Associated Departments


Applied Mathematics

  Mathematical Sciences
Applied Physics   Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Applied Science   Administered by Dean of Science
Astronomy   Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy
Biology   Biological Sciences
Biochemistry/Biophysics   Biological Sciences/Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology   Biological Sciences
Chemistry   Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Computer Science   Computer Science
Environmental Science   Earth and Environmental Sciences
Geology   Earth and Environmental Sciences
Hydrogeology   Earth and Environmental Sciences
Interdisciplinary Science   Administered by Dean of Science
Mathematics   Mathematical Sciences
Multidisciplinary Science   Administered by Dean of Science
Natural Sciences   Center for Iniatives in Pre-College Education
Physics   Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy


Overview of Undergraduate Programs

The School of Science prepares students for a broad range of careers in natural science, computer science, and mathematics, as well as in such diverse areas as management, technological communication, and industry or government agencies, or for graduate studies that may include medical, dental, or law school. The school’s educational goals for all of these students are to give them:

  • a broad background in their particular field.
  • working knowledge of modern research and technological tools.
  • an appreciation of theoretical, experimental, and computational research.
  • preparation for a lifetime of learning and discovery as both individuals and part of a team.

Students may attain these goals through a variety of majors offered within the six School of Science departments or through interdisciplinary degree programs offered in biochemistry/biophysics, bioinformatics and molecular biology, and environmental science. A major in interdisciplinary science is also available to students wishing more breadth in their program. Additionally, the Information Technology and Web Science program offers students the opportunity to explore computing and information system development in the context of a student chosen application domain. For more details on this program see the Information Technology and Web Science section of this catalog.

All programs offer a large number of electives so that students can emphasize their areas of interest, select a dual major or one or more minors, or study a wide range of topics in addition to obtaining a strong background in their major field of study.

Selection of a major within the School of Science may take place at any time during the first year of study or during the admissions process. Students who are uncertain of their major may enter as undeclared science and may defer their choice of major until the second year. With the exception of programs requiring joint admission outside the School of Science, the choice of any approved curriculum within the school is guaranteed.

Advanced placement credit or credit for courses taken in the higher level International Baccalaureate program is possible in those areas where examinations are given. Transfer students are welcome; formalized agreements exist with several community colleges so that students who have followed specified curricula in the community college will have all the standard freshman and sophomore requirements of the science departments at Rensselaer. Students transferring from other colleges will receive credit depending on the courses taken.

Core Program in Science for All Students

All Institute undergraduate students are required to complete a core program in science. As part of this program, students must take a minimum of 24 credit hours in physical, life, and engineering sciences, including at least eight credit hours of mathematics. No more than one course of the science core may be taken as Pass/No Credit. No courses graded S/U may be used to satisfy the science core.

Any of the courses with the following course codes meet the physical, life, and engineering sciences requirement: ASTR (students majoring in the School of Science cannot combine two-credit Astronomy courses to satisfy a Science Elective), BCBP, BIOL, CHEM, CSCI, ERTH, MATH, MATP, PHYS. In addition, the following courses also meet these requirements (non-engineering majors):

ENGR 1100 (as Science not Mathematics)
ENGR 1600
ENGR 2090
ENGR 2250
ESCE 2100
IENV 4500 (crosslisted as ERTH 4500)
IENV 4700
ISCI 4500

Other courses may fulfill this requirement and will be reviewed by the science core curriculum adviser (currently the associate dean of science) on a case-by-case basis. A number of upper-level courses in several engineering disciplines satisfy the requirement, but generally students taking these courses have enough prerequisites that the science requirement would already have been satisfied.

Transferring Credit Towards the Science Core
Students entering Rensselaer as first-year students may transfer up to two science courses (up to eight credit hours) toward satisfying their science core requirement. Other science and mathematics courses may be transferred as free electives.

Students who have taken advanced placement or the International Baccalaureate higher level exams may be granted credit for all such mathematics and science courses depending on their scores.

Transfer students from an accredited collegiate program may qualify for transfer of additional credits toward satisfying their science core requirement at the discretion of the science core curriculum adviser (currently the associate dean of science).

Students enrolled at Rensselaer who wish to take a science course at another accredited institution must obtain prior approval for the course from the science core curriculum adviser. To apply for approval, a student must furnish a catalog description of the proposed course and a completed copy of Rensselaer’s transfer credit approval form to the science core curriculum adviser.

Baccalaureate Programs in Science

Students entering as freshmen may pursue Bachelor of Science degrees in applied physics, bioinformatics and molecular biology, biology, biophysics/biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, geology, hydrogeology, interdisciplinary science, mathematics, and physics. A bachelor’s program that combines Information Technology and Web Science with a concentration in mathematics or science is also available.

Additional degree options are available in astronomy, biochemistry, biophysics, computing in chemistry, engineering chemistry, geophysics, operations research, polymer science, mathematics of computation, and many others. In these options, students choose courses from a list to make a coherent program of several courses in the same area.

A B.S. in any of these curricula requires between 124 and 128 credit hours.

A minimum of 46 credit hours in science is required for a B.S. degree in science. These must include BIOL 1010/1015, Introduction to Biology (or an approved alternate life sciences course), MATH 1010, Calculus I, MATH xxxx, (a second four-credit Mathematics course chosen from MATH xxxx or MATP xxxx), and PHYS 1100, Physics I. A course from at least one other science discipline is also required. Each curriculum also requires a three- or four-credit culminating experience taken in the senior year.

Each curriculum also offers an option that allows a student to receive up to four hours of course credit for an out-of-classroom experience. Students may exercise this option more than once. This out-of-classroom experience should have intellectual content relevant to the student’s educational or career goals. Appropriate experience might include an individual or group research project (on or off campus), an independent study project, a cooperative education assignment, a public service internship, or study abroad. A written proposal and a final written report must be submitted for evaluation to the faculty member designated by each curriculum. This course option may be included in the courses required for the major.

Additional opportunities for undergraduate science students are dual majors and minors. Flexible curricula make dual majors possible between all science majors. In addition, School of Science students may also arrange a dual major in science and humanities or social science or science and management. While the more structured architecture and engineering curricula make dual majors in these areas more difficult, students with advanced placement or advanced standing may be able to satisfy the requirements for dual degrees in these areas. Computer Science and Computer Engineering is a frequently selected dual major.

Students also frequently take minors in one of the science programs or in other Rensselaer programs ranging from philosophy to management to engineering. Minor programs are available in each of the sciences and mathematics, as well as in environmental science and biochemistry/biophysics. Consult the individual department or program descriptions for details of minor programs.

Special Undergraduate Opportunities

Accelerated Programs
Accelerated Physician-Scientist The School of Science offers an accelerated physician-scientist program in cooperation with Albany Medical College. Students in this program are recruited directly from high school.

Accelerated Bachelor of Science–Doctor of Philosophy An accelerated B.S./Ph.D. program leading to both degrees in six to seven years is possible in all departments and doctoral degree programs within the School of Science. Students apply by invitation to this program after their first year of study at Rensselaer. Selections are made after an interview with Deans of the School. Students participate in research rotations with faculty and select a prospective Ph.D. thesis adviser by the start of their third year of study. They have the opportunity for Darrin Undergraduate Research Fellowships during their undergraduate summers. Students maintain undergraduate status until completion of all requirements for an undergraduate degree.  With satisfaction of all program requirements, including excellent overall GPA and initiation of thesis research with the adviser, they transition to graduate status.

Accelerated Science-Law In cooperation with Albany Law School, Rensselaer offers a unique program leading to the B.S. and Juris Doctor (J.D.) in six years rather than the usual seven. Admission to this program is restricted. For Albany Law School, most students are admitted as incoming first-year students. Selected applicants must meet the admission requirements of Albany Law School of Union University. Thus a prospective science-law student may be able to assure admission to law school prior to beginning an undergraduate career at Rensselaer. Transfer from other Rensselaer curricula to this program is limited to students who have demonstrated academic excellence. Although guaranteed admission to Albany Law School is only available to selected first-year students, conditional admission is available to accepted Rensselaer students who meet specified achievement levels in their undergraduate program. Students should notify the undergraduate science core curriculum adviser before the end of the sophomore year of a desire to be nominated.

Undergraduate Research Experience
At Rensselaer, involving undergraduates in real-world research is of paramount importance. Through the Undergraduate Research Program (URP), described in the Educational Programs and Resources section of this catalog, undergraduates work directly with faculty and/or graduate students on projects requiring critical inquiries. These studies involve exciting areas of leading-edge technological research and have the potential to result in groundbreaking discoveries. Involvement in URPs can be arranged strictly for the experience, for credit, or for pay. Students apply through direct contact with faculty seeking students via their Web site or campus advertisements.

Cooperative Education
Students may augment their academic course work with on-the-job experience through the Cooperative Education program. Studies and work assignments are scheduled after consultation with the curriculum adviser. Although many co-op students complete their academic program in four years, some delay graduation for a semester or year to obtain additional work experience. Additional information on Rensselaer’s cooperative education programs can be found in the Student Life section of this catalog under the Center for Career and Professional Development heading.

Study Abroad/Exchange Programs
Rensselaer offers a number of study abroad/exchange programs that are open to the student body as a whole. For more information on these Institute-wide programs, see the Educational Programs and Resources section of this catalog.

Overview of Graduate Programs

Rensselaer’s greatest strength—the interface between science and engineering—is a unique feature that particularly benefits graduate students by providing a wide and unique variety of research areas. Graduate students are key to the Rensselaer’s ability to remain in the forefront of research and education in the sciences and to apply its research findings to needs of society.

Graduate students are the focus of personal attention and professional mentoring as they enter and develop their programs of study. A graduate adviser guides each student by assisting in the formation of a suitable program to meet individual needs and interests. Courses may be pursued for special purposes, as well as be applied to programs leading to a Master of Science or a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Recognizing that the divisions between basic science disciplines and specializations within particular sciences are not distinct, the School has developed many interdisciplinary programs. These programs allow for greater flexibility and situations in which research in one area may serve advanced degree requirements in another. This is especially evident in such areas as applied mathematics with an emphasis on modeling and analysis. Other examples include: bioinformatics that spans biology, chemistry, computer science, and mathematics; materials science stressing electronic, optical, polymeric, and structural materials; environmental research in the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin ‘40 Fresh Water Institute; the New York Center for Astrobiology; advanced computation in the areas of software, databases, and parallel computation; research into terahertz radiation for innovative imaging and sensing; research at the Center for Inverse Problems to find objects and their properties that cannot be measured directly; and reseach at the Center for Social and Cognitive Networks to better understand how people exploit social computing networks to accomplish goals.

Many science students and faculty also participate in Institute-wide research activities including composite materials, integrated electronics, design, manufacturing productivity, robotics, etc. Still others participate in co-op programs with industry. For details on graduate cooperative education opportunities, contact the Center for Career and Professional Development.

Numerous School of Science graduate students hold teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships while pursuing their degrees. Upon leaving Rensselaer with an advanced degree in mathematics or science, graduates easily find positions with corporations and government facilities or obtain postdoctoral and faculty positions at the most prestigious universities.

Master’s Programs

The School of Science offers Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in all of its individual departments. In addition, it offers master’s programs in applied science and in multidisciplinary science. For more information and specific details on these degree programs, see the Interdisciplinary Programs and Research section within the School of Science section of this catalog.

Doctoral Programs

Each School of Science department offers programs of doctoral study, and the Ph.D. is awarded in biochemistry and biophysics, biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics, and physics. Additional doctoral degree options are also available in a variety of special programs including astrophysics, surface science, mathematical programming, operations research, polymer science, and multidisciplinary science. These programs are a testament to Rensselaer’s commitment to encouraging study programs that cross disciplines within departments and even Institute schools. Detailed information on such programs follow within the School of Science Interdisciplinary Programs and Research section of this catalog.

Interdisciplinary Degree Programs

Rensselaer’s commitment to providing opportunities for interdisciplinary education is especially apparent within the School of Science. The successful pursuit of almost any Rensselaer field of study requires a strong background in one or more of the sciences. Furthermore, the various scientific disciplines overlap in many ways, just an example of which are the mathematics-based fields of chemistry and physics. The School of Science offers an impressive array of unique programs that cross not only scientific disciplines, but also disciplines within other Rensselaer Schools.

The special interdisciplinary opportunities administered by the School of Science allow students to develop a breadth and depth of knowledge in multiple disciplines, and include both degree and research programs. By nature, these programs are highly flexible and often involve working in teams with faculty and students representing multiple disciplines.

Additional interdisciplinary programs available at Rensselaer are outlined within the catalog sections for other Institute schools and for the Information Technology and Web Science program.

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