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Apprenticeship. It's an educational model that has existed for centuries, largely because it works so effectively. Oberlin has long used this model in all disciplines, but especially so in the sciences.

Apprenticeship requires debate and discussion, both with other students and with a master. In the sciences in particular, this kind of education requires hands-on work—learning science by doing science—always under the watchful eye of a caring mentor.

One of Oberlin's most notable student-mentor collaborations occurred more than 100 years ago and resulted in a discovery that changed modern life. The production of aluminum by electrochemistry—the method discovered by alumnus Charles Martin Hall in 1886—allowed the economical production of aluminum on an industrial scale for the first time.

Hall's interest in chemistry dated from his childhood. He aspired to be an inventor, and when he enrolled at Oberlin College at the age of 16, he was already intrigued by the lure of isolating aluminum.

At the College, Hall met Frank Fanning Jewett, Oberlin's chemistry professor. Jewett, who also had a great interest in aluminum chemistry, was a well-educated chemist who had studied at Yale University and the University of Göttingen in Germany, done research at Harvard University, and taught in Japan before joining the Oberlin faculty.

Shortly after they met, Jewett cleared some space in his own laboratory so he and the young student could work together. When Hall's experiments finally succeeded, a year after his graduation, it was Jewett to whom he brought his aluminum nuggets for confirmation that they were, indeed, aluminum. Hall went on to found the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).

The relationship that formed between Jewett and Hall enabled close collaboration between and faculty mentor and a student. It is a tradition on which Oberlin has built its reputation for excellence in science education. Hall excelled under this educational model, as do students today.
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