Sciences at Oberlin

Four students and a professor have a conversation at a lab table.
Professor of Biology Keith Tarvin meets with students who‘ll be working with him on a Squirrel Anti-Predator Study during winter term.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

Oberlin is a longtime leader in educating undergraduate scientists. In the last 100 years, more Oberlin graduates have earned PhDs than the graduates of any other liberal arts college in America. And 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences earned their undergraduate degrees at Oberlin—representing 1 percent of the academy’s membership.

And you thought Oberlin is simply known for its music conservatory.

We offer a rigorous science program that heightens intellectual curiosity through small classes, interdisciplinary seminars, and opportunities for field experiences and lab research with noted faculty mentors. Let's be clear: Scientific literacy is central to a liberal arts education no matter what your major or career interests. At Oberlin, you'll find science is more than just observation and measurement. It's learning to understand the processes that unfold around us every day.

What to Study

Science, Math, and More

Oberlin was the first liberal arts institution to have a neuroscience major, and one of the first to offer computer science. These days, we offer coursework in 11 disciplines that lead to the Bachelor of Arts degree in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental studies, geology, mathematics, neuroscience, physics (with astronomy), psychology, and 3-2 engineering.

We offer the five-year, 3-2 engineering program in conjunction with California Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, or Washington University in St. Louis. Once completed, students will have the BA from Oberlin and the BS in engineering from the other institution.

Students choose from course offerings in science and math as well as in such emerging fields as energy technology, computational modeling, digital animation, and behavioral ecology. The biology curriculum ranges from viruses to ecosystems, with extensive lab opportunities at the bench and outdoors.

You will have many chances to conduct independent research or to work with faculty-researchers in the lab, in the field, and even abroad. For example, geology students have assisted with fieldwork in Indonesia, South Africa, Japan, and Central America. Biology students have traveled with faculty to Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest to examine the foraging behavior and nest architecture of fire ants.

Each year about 180 students enroll in our Double Degree Program, which leads to two bachelor’s degrees: a BA from the College of Arts and Sciences and a BM from the Conservatory of Music. Many students major in science or mathematics in addition to musical performance.

Oberlin’s bachelor degree programs all include study in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics. This provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning and accomplishment.

Hands-on Research

We strive to give undergraduates many opportunities to learn by doing, to conduct independent and group research, to exhibit their projects, and even assist in publishing their research findings.

Strong faculty-mentored relationships gives our students a firsthand understanding of the rigor and discipline necessary to maintain an active research program and to recognize the benefits of lifelong learning.

Discover Research at Oberlin

Where Science Takes Place

The Science Center serves as the heart of science education and is accessible to all members of the college community. The building, completed incorporates technology into nearly every classroom and laboratory, and opportunities for hands-on research into every student's science education.

The design of the science complex maximizes collaboration between disciplines, and between students and professors.

What's inside? The center houses the biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and physics and astronomy departments. Classrooms accommodate traditional lecture instruction and small group work; labs allow for such new pursuits in science as a laser lab for chemistry, a cell culture room for biology, and an electrophysiology suite for neuroscience.

A spacious science library, plus lecture halls, computer labs, and an airy commons area make the Science Center a favorite place for individual and group study, snacks, lectures, and socializing.

Don’t let the size of the college fool you. Our science majors have access to important and sophisticated labs and equipment that one would expect to find at a much larger school. In addition, you won't have to compete with a graduate student for space or time in the lab, as is often the case at large research universities. At Oberlin, you’ll have room to do your own research or work in tandem with a faculty mentor.

  • A 64-node supercomputer, among the first at any liberal arts college, along with a new high-performance computer cluster, will allow you to process data in a matter of hours rather than days.
  • The neuroscience department’s confocal microscope displays 3D images of cells that can be rotated and viewed from different angles.
  • Beginning and advanced chemistry students use one of two NMR Spectrometers for class work or research with professors. The spectrometers are housed in lab space specially designed for them.
  • A cell culture room is set aside for biology students studying cell and molecular biology. DNA sequencing equipment is available for students doing genetics work.
  • A 110,000-volume science library has materials in astronomy, biology, biochemistry, botany, geology, neuroscience, physics, zoology, and related subjects in agriculture, medicine, and environmental technology. The library has access to 37 million articles through the OhioLink electronic journal center. The library offers collaborative workspaces and wireless access with seating for 140, including 31 carrels.

Our Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies helped to launch the green building movement of the 21st century. Solar panels atop the roof and adjacent parking pavilion generate most of the electricity the building uses.

In addition to classroom space, the center has an indoor engineered wetland called the Living Machine, which purifies non-potable wastewater for reuse in toilets and the landscape. Outdoors, a restored native wetland, orchard, and vegetable garden demonstrate urban-scale organic agriculture.

Throughout the building and landscape, 150 sensors monitor everything from electricity usage to soil moisture and chemical processing occurring in the wastewater treatment system. Data collected appears in real time on the web and in the atrium of the building.

Watch the Living Machine video to see how it works.

After Oberlin

A Broad Career Path

Graduates of Oberlin's science and math programs leave college fully prepared to take advantage of a broad range of career paths. While many head directly to graduate school and traditional science careers, others use their degree as a springboard to work in education, law, journalism, or government. Our alumni are admitted to highly competitive graduate programs, including those at Case Western Reserve University, and Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Scripps Research Institute, to name a few.

See the first destination of recent Oberlin graduates.

Learn more about academics at Oberlin including the sciences.