Celebrating Fifty Years

College of Sciences
College of Sciences
The Robert L. Bigelow Physics building is just one of a complex of buildings on campus dedicated to sciences education.

In 50 years, the College of Sciences has grown from a handful of professors teaching standard undergraduate science courses to a faculty of more than 100 offering a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees. In addition, the college now has an impressive array of campus laboratories, centers, and facilities that house a major research program.

College Beginnings

After offering science and mathematics classes in the 1950s, the university established the Division of Sciences and Mathematics in 1966, which became a school the next year. In 1968, the College of Science and Mathematics was formed; the next year, Robert Smith began serving as founding dean, with nearly 500 undergraduate and 41 graduate students enrolled. Five core academic units have served as the foundation for the college—biological sciences, chemistry, geoscience, mathematics, and physics (and astronomy).

Enrollment Growth

The current dean, Ronald Yasbin, took over in 2003. Two years later, the college established the Pre-Health Science Professional Program to advise students who plan to attend medical, dental, or veterinary school; since then, the number of UNLV undergraduates accepted to medical school has risen from 53 percent of the national average to 105 percent. In 2006, the department of biological sciences became the School of Life Sciences, reflecting the college's emphasis on interdisciplinary research programs. In addition, the college added a graduate program in astronomy and renamed the department of physics to include astronomy. By the fall, college enrollment had increased to nearly 2,000 students, including 250 graduate students.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Faculty members have long embraced the benefits of interdisciplinary teaching and research. They often serve in university administrative positions and have contributed their expertise to such important programs as the Honors College (first established as a program by professor of physics Len Zane) and the Water Resources Program. Faculty are currently involved with the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, the Nevada Cancer Institute, the Public Lands Institute, and many centers and schools across campus, including the Center for Math and Science Education.

Commitment to Research

College faculty began receiving research grants in the 1970s and 1980s. Federally funded, peer-reviewed research from such entities as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health is now a fixture on campus, for example:

  • Assistant Professor Frank van Breukelen received a $745,000 NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award to support the research project "Protein Metabolism During Mammalian Hibernation."
  • Assistant Biology Professor Brian P. Hedlund received a $842,000 NSF Early Career Development Award to support the research project "Linking Novel Thermophiles with Ecosystem Function: Study of a Model Spring in Nevada."
  • Ken Czerwinski, associate professor of radiochemistry, and Thomas Hartmann, research scientist and director for structure and solid phase analysis at the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies, together with colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, are leading a three-year, $687,288 grant, "Solution-Based Synthesis of Nitride Fuels."
  • Assistant Professors of Geology Matthew Lachniet and Ganqing Jiang received a $250,000 NSF grant to fund establishment of a stable isotope laboratory to study climatic changes on earth.
  • Jean Cline, Professor of geology, received a $295,868 grant from NSF for the project "Collaborative Research on Fluid Pathways and Metal Transport and Deposition in Carlin-Type Gold Deposits: Insights From the Getchell System."

Student Success

In recent years, the college has become increasingly committed to providing undergraduate research opportunities, with faculty including undergraduates as central members of research teams. NSF grants currently provide funds that support summer research programs for some 44 undergraduates, including students selected from colleges and universities across the country.

Examples of notable recent student achievement include:

  • Biology major Archana Nelliot received a 2005 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for research in the natural sciences, one of only 310 recipients nationwide.
  • Karen Levy, a biology and biochemistry major, spent the summer of 2007 at Columbia University studying the microorganism Leionella pneumophila as an Amgen Scholar, one of only 13 students selected from 700 national nominees.
  • Jenifer Utz, a life sciences doctoral candidate, recently received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to continue her study of the hibernation of golden-mantled ground squirrels.

Community Outreach

As part of its mission to increase science literacy and spread scientific knowledge to diverse communities, the college participates in various community activities:

  • Beal Savings Bank Southern Nevada Regional Science and Engineering Fair is open to students in the Clark County School District.
  • "Desert Survivors," an NSF-funded television program featuring UNLV faculty and graduate students, is aimed at educating elementary school children about the Mojave Desert's animals and plants.
  • Southern Nevada Regional Science Bowl, a competition for teams of high school students, gives students a chance to meet UNLV professors and graduate students and attend scientific presentations.
  • Alpha Epsilon Delta, the pre-health honor society for undergraduates, hosts the annual Bone Marrow Donor Program on campus, which enables students to sign up for the national registry, matching donors and recipients, and participates in a wide range of community improvement projects.
  • Outstanding Clark County high school junior science and math students are recognized, with their teachers and parents, at an annual dinner and program.

Looking Ahead

In 2008-09, the Science and Engineering Building will open, offering 200,000 square feet of laboratories, teaching space, and high-tech conference rooms. The building is designed to support interdisciplinary research; draw students to high-demand fields such as electrical engineering, computer science, and environmental science; and attract national and international researchers. The college will continue to focus on improving the quality of life in Nevada and the nation through teaching, research, and community service programs.


1969 - Robert B. Smith
1981 - David Emerson
1989 - Eugene Peck
1996 - Warren P. Burggren, interim
1997 - Raymond Alden
2000 - Peter Starkweather, interim
2001 - Fred Bachhuber
2003 - Ronald Yasbin