Integrated Curriculum Hands-on experience Learning Support
Analytical, experimental, and simulation-based approaches to the life sciences enmeshed with the math, physics, chemistry, and computer science topics that explain them. Learn the ropes in wet lab and programming bootcamps, then join a Harvard lab to conduct original research during freshman year. A team of fourteen enthusiastic instructors shepherd twenty-five students through a challenging, fast-paced curriculum.

WHAT IS LS 50: INTEGRATED SCIENCE?

LS 50 is a small, newish (this is our third year), year-long, double course that will introduce you to biology, chemistry, computing, math, and physics as the inseparable components that make up the toolkit that modern scientists use to frame, tackle, and solve the fundamental questions about the world around us. We focus on the life sciences to integrate the concepts and methods you will learn. Thus questions we will ask include: How can collections of molecules that obey the laws of physics and chemistry produce tiny, but enormously complicated self-replicating machines? How do these machines receive, interpret, and act on information from their environment? And how do these machines evolve to acquire new properties?


In addition to a curriculum of roughly 100 lectures in a wide variety of topics in biology (from structural biology, through cell biology, genetics, and biochemistry to neuroscience, evolution and the origin of life), statistical mechanics, chemistry, dynamical systems, network theory, bioinformatics, and stochastic processes, you will engage in original research projects in throughout the year. Early involvement in science will help you assess your interests in research while applying new analytical, experimental, and simulation-based approaches under real-world conditions.

You can explore the course's subject matter through the list of lecture titles. You can also learn more about the course instructors on the biography page. If you're a current LS 50 student looking for the page containing course materials, please click here.

WHAT PREPARATION DO I NEED?

Much less than you might think. We want you to be jazzed about science, prepared to work hard, and ready for a big and exciting educational challenge. We don't need you to have gone to a fancy high school with state-of-the-art labs, spent summers at science camps, or done internships in research labs. Some of the teachers in this course went to distinctly below-average high schools and the only thing we will assume is that you know the elements of calculus and that you're prepared to learn a lot of other stuff. Each of you will undoubtedly have moments of thinking that you are wildly unprepared for a particular part of the course and being convinced that you can't learn the material. As scientists we get that feeling too when we make discoveries that take us into new areas and we find people who know about them and ask them to help us muddle through. As long as you reach out, the same strategy will work for you.

Speaking more formally, Harvard's placement tests offer some guide to whether you and LS50 will be a good fit for each other. If your scores on the math placement test recommend Math 18 and above, the math in LS50 lies within your grasp. If you are recommended to take Math 1b it probably does and you're welcome to come and talk to us; last year 7 of the 20 students who took LS50 were recommended to take Math 1b and all of them thrived in LS50. It's not a requirement that you take Harvard's Chemistry or Biology placement tests, but if you did, students who have taken LS50 have typically scored above 500 on both tests.

HOW BIG A COMMITMENT WILL I BE MAKING?

As a freshman, you take 8 classes distributed over two semesters. This course counts for four of those classes, so it's half your academic effort for your freshman year. We're not trying to mount a year-long hazing ritual, but we will expect you to work hard in return for the effort that the faculty and teaching fellows are investing to develop a new and ambitious course. You will have lectures five days a week.

You will work in small teams to perform original research, working on one project in the fall and another in the spring.

If you join LS 50, you will likely be unable to take introductory physics sequences in mechanics and electromagnetism because of scheduling issues. You may also find it challenging to balance the LS 50 workload with additional math courses (although previous LS50 students have done this and survived!). Don't worry: delaying physics and math sequences until sophomore year will not prevent you from concentrating in math or physics if you later choose to do so. In fact, since LS 50 will expose you to quantitative approaches and demonstrate the value of math and physics in the life sciences, we hope you will be motivated to try a more challenging sequence (e.g., Ph 15abc rather than PS 2/3) than you would have attempted as a freshman.

WHAT WILL I LEARN AND HOW MANY FACTS WILL I HAVE TO REMEMBER?

Many students enter college having concluded that doing well in biology (and sometimes chemistry) is largely a question of remembering and regurgitating a series of poorly-connected facts. Our goal is to teach you the concepts and tools that you need to understand and do science. We believe three things: (i) the concepts and tools are far more important than any trivia nugget, (ii) no scientific discipline exists in a vacuum, nor should it be taught that way, because (iii) you will retain useful information and apply it creatively if you appreciate its relationship to the subjects you care about.

From a practical perspective, you can expect to learn most of the concepts in LS 1a and LS1b (a traditional freshman life sciences sequence) and Math 19a (Modeling and differential equations for the life sciences), as well as selected topics from physics, computer science, and probability. LS 50 fulfills general education requirements in Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Science of the Physical Universe, and Science of Living Systems. LS 50 may fulfill math, research course, or elective requirements specific to your concentration, but we hope that LS 50 will be only the first of many science and math courses and research experiences for you at Harvard!

ARE WE GOING TO BE COMPETING WITH OR COLLABORATING WITH EACH OTHER?

Despite scientists’ reputation for being poorly socialized, competitive nerds who don't like making eye contact, science is a surprisingly social and collaborative mutual obsession. We talk to each other and work together because we have a common struggle, harvesting small nuggets of knowledge about how the world works. We'll encourage you to do the same. For tests you'll have to work alone so that you (and we) can figure out how you're doing, and for problem sets we'll ask you to talk about ideas and concepts with each other as much as you want, but tell you that you have to sit down and write on your own, again to make sure that you understand what you understand and what you haven't yet grasped.

HOW HARD WILL I HAVE TO WORK AND WILL I STRUGGLE?

Hard and yes.

"But I thought you said it wasn't a hazing ritual.”

It's not, but our goal is to make you the best young scientists you can be, and that will require substantial effort from you and us. As much as we've tried to pare the things you need to be able to understand and do science down to the bare essentials, there's still a lot to learn. And since, in science as in life, failure tends to be as effective a teacher as success, you will often end up failing before you succeed. You'll struggle because however much you've loved and learnt about science, it's very unlikely that you will walk into this course already knowing everything that it will attempt to teach you. Some of you will know a lot of biology and a little physics, and you'll be scared of and struggle with the physics, and some of you will be the reverse. Because your backgrounds will vary like this, we want you to help each other.

You can read about what previous students have said about LS50 in the CUE Guide. Their responses are remarkably uniform: LS50 is challenging and they had to work hard but they enjoyed the experience, learnt a lot, and valued the connections they made with each other and with the faculty, teaching fellows, and course assistants (current Harvard undergrads who were LS50 students last year or the year before).

IS THERE A LAB FOR THE COURSE AND WILL WE BE ABLE TO DO OUR OWN RESEARCH?

Yes, the course will have labs and our goal is to make sure that you never do an experiment whose outcome you can look up because someone else has done it before. You will do project research that will be supervised by two John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellows (independent young scientists with their own research labs and research projects), Kristen Koening and Paul Shamble. You will work together in small groups to do original scientific research on projects related to Kristen's and Paul's research. After you've been trained in basic procedures and lab safety and have demonstrated that you're capable of working independently, you'll have access to the labs anytime when other courses aren't using them. We expect that you'll spend roughly four to six hours per week in lab.

WILL IT BE A PROBLEM IF I'VE NEVER DONE MY OWN RESEARCH BEFORE?

No. Everyone does research in their everyday life, without realizing it, because they use evidence from the world around them to formulate and test hypotheses. Some of you will have entered every science fair that was available since your were six and others will never have entered a single one, either because science hadn't caught your fancy or because you were too busy doing other things. Our experience is that how much research you've done before getting to college isn't a very good predictor of how much you'll either enjoy or succeed at research in college.

IS THIS COURSE A SMOOTH, WELL-OILED MACHINE?

Not exactly. We are mounting the course for the third time this year, which means that you should be grateful to the guinea pigs who participated in int the first two years, but you will still be part of an educational experiment, since we will be trying to improve the course on the basis of their suggestions and our observations. As an example, we had course lectures five days a week for the first two years, and this year we're going to try something different on Wedensdays, because your predecessors suggested the idea to us. On the plus side, this means that the faculty and teaching fellows will are especially excited about the course and you will have a level of contact with them that is often rare for freshmen. On the minus side, despite last year’s experience and this year's advance planning, we will undoubtedly have minor crises and have to make mid-course adjustments.

Both during this year and in changes we make for coming years, we hope you will work with us to give us honest feedback, make suggestions, and brainstorm about how to teach science
effectively. Our long term ambition is to export the idea of teaching science as an integrated subject more broadly and you can help us achieve that goal.

WHAT NEXT? LIFE AFTER LS 50

After LS 50, you'll be poised for all sophomore-level coursework in the life sciences. A few of the many possibilities are highlighted at left.

Some upper-division neuroscience, systems biology, bioengineering, and other life science courses will require additional math and physics sequences. If you challenge yourself to complete advanced tracks in math and physics such as Ma 23ab and Ph 15abc, you will benefit from partial content overlap with LS 50. These advanced tracks will also prepare you for upper-division coursework in applied math and physics, including differential equations (AM 105), quantum mechanics (Ph 143ab), and statistical mechanics (Ph 181). We also encourage you to take a formal course in probability and statistics.

We recommend organic chemistry for students concentrating in the life sciences. LS 50 students will also be well-prepared for physical chemistry courses such as MCB 65, Ch 60, or Ch 160.
Ma 23ab Linear algebra and real analysis
Stat 110/111 Probability and statistics
PS 1 or PS 11               General chemistry
Ch 20/30 Organic chemistry
Ch 160 Quantum-based physical chemistry                                                             
Ph 15abc Mechanics, electromagnetism, and waves
MCB 60 Cellular biology
MCB 80 Neurobiology
OEB 53 Evolutionary biology

HOW WILL I PROGRESS THROUGH MY GRADUATION/CONCENTRATION/PRE-MEDICINE REQUIREMENTS?

Concentrations which have confirmed requirements fulfilled by LS 50: The short answer is that we're in discussion with concentrations now to determine which requirements LS 50 will satisfy. In the cluster of nine Life Science concentrations, LS 50 will most likely satisfy requirements that include LS 1a, LS 1b, some sophomore biology requirements, and part of the requirements for math and physics. In concentrations outside the life sciences, LS 50 will introduce you to concepts you will use in your concentrations, but there will be fewer individual courses (except for concentrations that require biology courses) that it will satisfy. As we finish our conversations with various concentrations, we will update this information. Of course, we hope that you'll be excited to continue in math, physics, and research after taking LS 50!

Students considering medical school and other health-related careers may wish to contact Oona Ceder and Ellen Williams in the Office of Career Services to discuss how LS 50 fulfills pre-requisites for professional programs. Although each program will make an independent decision, we predict that most medical schools will count LS 50 as one year of biology with lab and one semester of chemistry. More speculatively, some may award credit for an additional semester of chemistry or math, but none are likely to award credit for physics (you will still need to take classical mechanics and electromagnetism).

The General Education Committee has confirmed that LS 50 will fulfill general education requirements in Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning, Science of Living Systems, and Science of the Physical Universe.
Neurobiology LS 1ab, Ma 19a, and a physics course                             
Molecular and Cellular Biology LS 1ab, Ma 19a, and a research course*
Chemical and Physical Biology LS 1ab, Ma 19a, and a research course*
Integrative Biology LS 1ab and two "related fields" requirements (e.g. math and physics)
Human Development and Regenerative Biology LS 1ab and one mathematics course
Human Evolutionary Biology LS 1ab
Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology LS 1ab
Biomedical Engineering LS 1ab
Engineering Sciences (SB) LS 1ab
Engineering Sciences (AB), Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering  LS 1a
* We are hopeful that students will get excited about research and take additional research courses such as 100r, 91r, and thesis (99) later on.

HOW DO I APPLY?

LS 50: Integrated Science has room for approximately 35 students (freshmen only, no exceptions). We encourage you to do two complete our application form by 11:59 PM EST on Monday, August 28. You don't have to do this to take the course, but if you do and you want to talk to us about the course it means we already have some information about you to help guide the conversation.

For the past two year's we've held a lottery and then had a  wait list for those who didn't lottery into the class. In both years, we had given everyone on the wait list a chance to take LS50, so this year we're going to do things differently. Until registration, we'll hold the class in a larger room and everyone who's interested is welcome to come, but we ask you to email us (ls50harvard@gmail.com) either to tell us that you want to take the class, or to tell us, if you later change your mind, that you don't.

If, two days shy of registration we have more than 35 students who want to take LS50, we'll hold a lottery to select 35 students and notify you by email. Given that enrollment for our first two years was between 20 and 25, it's likely that we will have room for everyone who wants to take LS50. Classes begin on Wednesday, August 30.

If you would like to learn more about the course (beyond what you can find here and on the official course website (https://canvas.harvard.edu/courses/31299) before the fall semester begins, contact us at ls50harvard@gmail.com if you have any questions.

WHAT IF I NEED TO DROP LS 50?

We recognize that LS 50 is an ambitious undertaking. We strive to support our students through office hours, recitation sections, collaborative work on problem sets in study groups, peer tutoring, and on-on-one discussions. However, we will do our best to ease the transition of students who choose to leave LS 50. Freshmen are required to enroll in three letter-graded courses per semester, so students leaving LS 50 will need to enroll in at least one additional class (we recommend LS 1a and/or an appropriate math course). Transferring to another course becomes more challenging as the term progresses, so please speak with us as your concerns arise.