Steve Charles—Even if Dr. Fahmeed Hyder’s accomplishments hadn’t grabbed my attention, the classes he chose to visit during his return to Wabash would have.

Since when does a former chemistry major spend most of his time back on campus in psychology classes?

Hyder ’90 spoke to students and faculty in Hays Hall last Friday on “fMRI Basics to Cutting Edge: Neuroscience Boot Camp.”

A professor of diagnostic radiology and biomedical engineering at the Yale School of Medicine, Hyder is the director of the Core Center for Quantitative Neuroscience with Magnetic Resonance at Yale. His noontime talk blended chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics as he helped an audience from an equally eclectic range of disciplines understand this form of imaging that “is changing life science” and has “become the dominant brain mapping technology crucial to cognitive neuroscience.”

And the psychology classes he visited? Courses focusing on neuroscience (where Professor Neil Schmitzer-Torbert has a grant pending from the National Institutes of Health supporting the research he and students are doing in that field). He and Professor Karen Gunther bring an emphasis on physiological psychology that is becoming a bellwether in the College’s increasingly interdisciplinary curriculum.

Fahmeed—who majored in chemistry, minored in economics and mathematics, and took an area of concentration in music when he was a student here—was understandably intrigued by the psychology classes.

“I was trained as a chemist, and I went on to get a degree in chemistry—Wabash taught me exactly the right way to get that degree,” Fahmeed told me Friday on the way to visit with his mentor and Professor of Chemistry Bob Olson. He also noted that the work he is doing now falls far afield of traditional chemistry.

“I think the foundation my education here gave me allowed me to seek and find my own way.”

And his own way now includes disciplines he didn’t venture into during his Wabash days.

“I’m doing a lot of biologically based work, though it’s not what I was trained to do. I didn’t even take a biology course here,” Fahmeed said. “But now that I’ve attended a couple of the neuroscience courses here, I think I would have been inclined towards that. It is an aspect of biology which really brings in all the different disciplines—it brings in a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of physics, even a little bit of engineering.

“It’s an interesting and positive decision to include those courses in the curriculum. It’s a reflection of what is happening in [the sciences] now. Psychologists are speaking with physicists, with biologists—it’s good to have chemistry majors or biology majors take that course, and if the intention of the psychology department is to expand the curriculum, this seems a positive direction.”

We’ll have more on Hyder’s leading edge research in bioimaging in the Spring 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine. (He also recently had his book, Dynamic Brain Imaging, published by Humana Press.)

But I wanted to share his comments regarding this visit. It seems that whenever we’ve brought to campus outstanding practitioners of their vocations, the interdisciplinary nature of most callings becomes ever more apparent—whether it’s writer Jonathan Lethem dissolving the artificial divisions between literary genres (as our own Dan Simmons ’70 began doing decades ago) or chemist Fahmeed Hyder’s work combining biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. The strength and creativity of the College’s faculty in these fields and the value of a liberal arts education to provide the agility to make the connections between those fields seems more apparent than ever, too.

It’s always an exciting time to be learning, but this seems a particularly good one at Wabash. Every time I hear about a new “interdisciplinary course” being offered, I find myself wishing I could be in school again.