The Languages of Science – 10.22.21

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

There’s lots going on! Family and Friends Weekend; Husky Hunt is fast approaching; the comfortable new chairs and tables in Richards Hall lobby are full of students so pleased to be at Northeastern, many of them in a Science major or combined major. We have an innovative new Northeastern strategic plan, and are initiating our College of Science Strategic Planning, that will connect with, complement, and extend the overall university plan.

How do we build the future of the COS? I like building from the ground up, so started by asking ‘what is a College of Science’?  Interestingly, I could find no general definition, so looked more broadly for definitions of ‘Science’ . The results were totally boring, for example: ‘Science (from Latin scientia ‘knowledge’) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world’.

Is ‘Science’ then, and our College of Science an artificial construct, or a relic from long ago? Absolutely not! There is a living, important and wonderful framework for Science, and for a College of Science. Some time ago, I formulated a set of “Great Languages” and ranked them according to broadest usage. There is no judgment in this ranking, just a semi-quantitative ‘usage’ metric, and it’s fun to use different size fonts to represent usage. My terming of language is “a set of related concepts and principles, forming a grammar and vocabulary, that can be used to communicate, create and answer questions”.

By this schema, the most used Great Languages are MathematicsPhysics and Chemistry since they are languages of the entire Universe.  Biology is certainly the language of our planet, governing all life on earth. The ‘Human Languages’, no less important to people, are the ones you might think of first – Spanish, English, Chinese etc together with the languages of humanities, arts and design – Philosophy, History, Music etc. Coding comprises a set of recent languages, with increasing usage. Engineering is a powerful synthesis of many languages. My fellow Deans can frame the crucial landscapes of their Colleges brilliantly, the only goal here is to frame the College of Science.

In my view, Science is a set of related Great Languages. Mathematics is intertwined with Physics and Chemistry, the language of Biology is based on physical and chemical principles. These branch and connect with other languages to define important science composites such as Psychology or Marine and Environmental Sciences. The languages of science are so rich that we don’t understand their structure anywhere near completely, nor how to compose with each most creatively. By extension, a College of Science is where related Science Languages come together in exciting ways, to be explored, understood, taught and used to help write solutions for the challenges of our planet and beyond. The Languages of Science are living, and our College of Science is a living entity, an open encampment with fluid inward and outward movement, connecting deeply with expertise focused in other colleges and other languages.

What do we see next for the Northeastern College of Science? That is what we will tackle, and I am confident we will go somewhere interesting and significant, through even more empowering education, even higher impact collaborative research, and from ingenious innovations that will contribute to the excellent future of Northeastern University.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University
[email protected]
Pronouns: she/her