Jun 17, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2023-2024 
Rensselaer Catalog 2023-2024

School of Science

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Dean: Curt M. Breneman

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs: Lee Ligon

Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs: Sibel Adali

Director of Information Technology and Web Science: Rick Plotka

School of Science Home Page: http://science.rpi.edu/

Science is a constantly growing and expanding field, and scientific literacy is more important than ever. Today, more and faster than ever before, new and exciting discoveries are increasing human knowledge about this world and the vast reaches beyond it. As always, Rensselaer faculty, students, 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, based on the principle of “Applying Science to the Common Purposes of Life”. Most important to maintaining this tradition has been the Institute’s commitment to anticipating and generating advancements in all aspects of these fields. School of Science curricula are constantly reviewed and revised to incorporate new discoveries and knowledge, and a strong emphasis is placed on undergraduate participation in cutting-edge research. Most recently, the School added a new emphasis on “Data Dexterity” in courses for all students in all majors across campus.

Today, Rensselaer prepares students for a wide variety of careers in the firmly established areas of mathematics, data science and the natural sciences while forging ahead to develop excellent new programs in the emerging fields of information technology, AI and machine learning, and Web science. Innovations in the 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 the  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 National Academy members, a National Medal of Science holder, and Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  In addition, many faculty are Fellows in specialized professional societies, and all have achieved the highest attainable degree in their fields.

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

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; astrobiology; biocomputation; biophysics; the chemistry and physics of electronic, optical, and structural materials; bioorganic and biophysical chemistry; environmental science; earth science; mathematical modeling; machine learning and artificial intelligence; network science; semantic web and data infrastructure; theory of computation; high performance computation; pervasive computing and distributed systems; computer vision; cybersecurity; programming languages and computer graphics.

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, the immersive data visualization research environment of the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Lab (CISL) within the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), and the state-of-the-art instrumentation in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

The research activities of many School of Science faculty members are conducted within Rensselaer’s major interdisciplinary research centers, including the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA), the Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems (cMDIS), the Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES), the Scientific Computation Research Center (SCOREC), the Center for Computational Innovations (CCI), the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin ‘40 Fresh Water Institute (DFWI), the Network Science and Technology Center (NEST), and the Rensselaer Astrobiology Research and Education Center (RARE).

Also providing unique opportunities for students are a number of School of Science administered research centers. These include the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis, the Rensselaer Exploratory Center for Cheminformatics Research (RECCR), the Center for Modeling, Optimization, and Computational Analysis (MOCA), 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 that are described in detail under Interdisciplinary Degree Programs later in this section.

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
Biological Neuroscience   Biological Sciences
Biology   Biological Sciences
Biochemistry/Biophysics   Biological Sciences/Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Chemistry   Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Computational Biology   Biological Sciences
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
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, computational 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.

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.

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 computational sciences, including at least eight credit hours of mathematics. 

More information on the Math & Science Core can be found in the Core Curriculum section of this catalog.

Baccalaureate Programs in Science

Students entering as freshmen may pursue Bachelor of Science degrees in applied physics, bioinformatics and molecular biology, biology, biochemistry/biophysics, 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 concentrations are available in applied mathematics, astrobiology, astronomy, astrophysics, artificial intelligence and data, chemical biology, computational physics, ecology, neuroscience, operations research, optical physics, polymer chemistry, geochemistry, mathematics of computation, microelectronics, systems and software, theory and algorithms, robotics and games, 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.

All undergraduate students in the School of Science will benefit from participation in The Arch – a signature campus-wide undergraduate experience. The Arch consists of two parts, a focused summer experience on campus for rising Juniors, and unique off-campus learning opportunities for students in the fall or spring of their Junior year.

A minimum of 46 credit hours in science is required for a B.S. degree in science. These must include BIOL 1010  and BIOL 1015  or BIOL 1016  (or an approved alternate life sciences course), MATH 1010 , MATH XXXX, (a second 4-credit Mathematics course chosen from MATH XXXX or MATP XXXX), and PHYS 1100 . A course from at least one other science discipline is also required. Each curriculum also requires a 3- or 4-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. 

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, but may also join the program in the Freshman year.

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 and Graduate Program Directors of relevant departments. 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.

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 Rensselaer Astrobiology Research and Education Center (RARE); the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies; advanced computation in the areas of software, databases, and parallel computation; research into terahertz radiation for innovative imaging and sensing; and research 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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