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Oak Ridge Science Semester

Oak Ridge, Tennessee



Students devote most of their time to research with a scientist from the ORNL staff serving as a mentor. In addition, students are required to participate in an interdisciplinary seminar and may choose an advanced academic course from among a variety of options.

The seminar and advanced courses are given during the first 12 weeks of the semester, allowing students to devote their last three weeks exclusively to research and the completion of research papers.

Research at ORNL

Required, 8 semester credits

Each student is expected to devote at least 35 hours per week to research on a specific project under the guidance of an ORNL staff scientist. This research experience is the core of the program. Students are expected to contribute significantly to the design and methodological approach of their research activity, and often find this the most demanding and rewarding experience of their college careers.

Interdisciplinary Seminar

Required, 4 semester credits

Click here to see a sample course syllabus

This seminar is intended to broaden students' perspectives and expose them to the wide range of research carried out at ORNL by staff scientists from many fields. Seminars are designed to stimulate students to think creatively by exposing them to current scientific research processes from multiple fields.  As scientific research becomes more interdisciplinary, connections between disciplines often lead to the next wave of scientific advancements.

The seminar series also includes field trips to acquaint students with some of the research facilities at ORNL.  During the latter part of the program, the seminar usually serves as a forum for students to present their own research data for discussion and comment.

However, like most academic courses, the seminar content is subject to change based on the needs of the class.

Advanced Course

Recommended, 4 semester credits

Students may choose from a variety of options for their advanced course, which change each year.  The courses offered in a particular fall semester are chosen to accommodate the needs and interests of the program participants, once they have been selected to the program.  Coursework in recent years has included areas such as: organic and inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry, physics, abstract or linear algebra, biology, genetics, molecular biology, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, differential equations, dynamical systems, and scientific computing. 

Options for this course include:

  • One to two classes typically taught by the resident director (a faculty member from one of the consortial colleges).
  • Two classes typically taught by faculty and staff at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • An independent study course through the student’s home college, working with one of their own faculty members, and under the supervision of one of the resident faculty.
  • A course at an area college or university, usually Roane State Community College, Pellissippi State Community College, or the University of Tennessee-Knoxville(Note: Laboratory classes would typically need to be arranged through one of these colleges.)

For additional information, please visit the Denison ORSS page.

Oak Ridge Science Semester

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Lee Pedzisa The Oak Ridge Science Semester was an amazing and extremely rewarding experience for me. I had the opportunity to participate in world-class research with some of the top researchers in the country. The researchers took the time to explain the goal of the project but even more, they explained what graduate school life is like. From this experience, I was further prepared for research in graduate school and I also got a publication from our work. Oak Ridge provided me with more than just a great intellectual adventure, but I also made strong ties with other students in my program. If I could do it again, I would participate in the Oak Ridge Science Semester.

—Lee Pedzisa, Oak Ridge Science Semester, Fall 2008

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The Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) is a consortium of independent, liberal arts colleges in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado.