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The required reading for Lafayette’s Class of 2007 is cited in a feature on college summer reading programs for first-year students in the June 16 issue of Time magazine.

The article in the Notebook section states that Lafayette’s incoming students are reading Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, a play about “a fateful meeting between pioneers of the nuclear bomb.” Winner of the 2000 Tony Award for best play, the drama is built around an explosive reimagining of the mysterious wartime meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his Danish counterpart, Niels Bohr, both Nobel laureates, to discuss the atomic bomb.

Other schools mentioned in the piece are Duke University, Ithaca College, Brandeis University, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which chose Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, who gave a lecture and led a roundtable discussion about the book at Lafayette in March as part of Women’s History Month.

Lafayette’s first-year students used an Internet bulletin board to discuss their summer reading and introduce themselves to one another before setting foot on campus. They will also engage in dialogue about Copenhagen during the fall orientation program.

“A number of colleges are assigning homework before their freshmen even set foot on campus – mandatory summer reading,” notes Time writer Molly Worthen. “The schools typically choose one book that will spark debate, remind freshmen that there is life outside the ivory tower – and not be too heavy to make it from the bookshelf to the beach.”

Laura Walls, associate professor of English, played a lead role along with George Panichas, professor of philosophy, in shaping the orientation program and selecting the summer reading. She will give a lecture on the ethical and moral dimensions of science during the Convocation ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 21

“The genius of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen is that it brings science and ethics together not abstractly, but on the pulses of three lives: the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, his wife Margrethe, and the German physicist who was like a son to Bohr, Werner Heisenberg,” she says. “…Frayn’s play stages [a] crucial moment in the lives of these three people as a lens through which we see illuminated the complexities of quantum physics, the question of whether physicists had the right to build the bomb, and the problematics of memory, as Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ becomes a metaphor for our inability to fully know, be fully certain of, any moment in history.

“Hence, Copenhagen is a stunning work of interdisciplinarity that shows equally well how scientific theories come laden with moral implications, and how literature can make even the most arcane theories and intractable moral questions come passionately alive for all of us.”

Anthony Novaco, Metzgar Professor and head of physics, and Suzanne Westfall, professor of English, gave talks on the academic theme of this year’s orientation program, “Question the Answers,” during summer advising sessions for first-year students and their parents.

Orientation activities centered on “Question the Answers” will include two small-group discussion sessions led by Lafayette faculty and two staged readings of Copenhagen at the Williams Center for the Arts by Break-a-Leg Productions, a New York theater group, on Friday, Aug. 22.

The Internet Blackboard site hosting the discussion on Copenhagen and the issues it raises was coordinated by William Carpenter, assistant professor of English, and Owen McLeod, assistant professor of philosophy.

For a look at last year’s summer reading and fall orientation program for the Class of 2006, see the related article on the Lafayette web site.

Categorized in: In the Media