Biology investigates the processes of life at the molecular, cellular, organismal, population, and ecosystem levels. The department believes that the study of biology helps all students to become more scientifically literate and exposes them to the diverse ways in which biologists pose questions and gather and interpret data. Aside from its contribution to a liberal education, the biology curriculum may be an introduction to a career in research, education, environmental science, the health professions, conservation, or a range of other fields.
The department recommends that students considering a biology or biological chemistry major take both Biology 150 Introduction to Biological Inquiry and Chemistry 129 General Chemistry in their first year. These courses may be taken in either order. It also recommends that students take calculus (Mathematics 123–124 or 131) during their first year. In the first semester of their second year, students should take both Biology 251 Molecules, Cells, and Organisms and Chemistry 221 Organic Chemistry I. Students continuing as biology majors should then enroll in Biology 252 Organisms, Evolution, and Ecology in the second semester. These core courses prepare students to continue with advanced-level courses of their choice and to undertake independent research projects.
Since the focus of the curriculum at all levels is on the process of discovery in biology, classroom activities emphasize experimental design, analysis of data, and reading from the scientific literature, while laboratories emphasize student-designed experiments or projects and writing scientific papers and posters. All majors are encouraged to conduct independent study or summer research in association with Grinnell faculty or at an off-campus site or program. In such cases, careful advanced planning with an adviser will make it easier to take advantage of these opportunities. Students also are encouraged to develop their skills in written and oral communication through investigative reports, class presentations, or a departmental seminar. Excellent laboratory and field facilities support the biology program.
Biology department space in the recently renovated Noyce Science Center includes classrooms, teaching labs, faculty research labs, a state-of-the-art greenhouse, and numerous support rooms designed explicitly to facilitate the research-intensive curriculum. Instrumentation available for courses and research includes confocal and wide-field fluorescence microscopes, high-speed and ultra centrifuges, a liquid scintillation spectrometer, photodocumentation systems, scanning UV-visible spectrophotometers and plate readers, electrophysiological suites, and C/N, TOC, and FIA autoanalyzers, as well as equipment for DNA synthesis, sizing, sequencing, and the polymerase chain reaction. The department also manages the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), a 148-hectare (365-acre) biological field station 11 miles from campus, which includes restored oak woodland, oak savanna, tallgrass prairie habitats, a diversity of aquatic habitats, and several long-term experimental areas. The newly constructed Environmental Education Center at CERA supports teaching and research in biology, the arts, and other subjects with excellent classroom, collection, and greenhouse facilities.
A minimum of 32 credits in biology including: Biology 150 Introduction to Biological Inquiry
- Biology 251 Molecules, Cells, and Organisms
- Biology 252 Organisms, Evolution, and Ecology
- Twenty additional credits of biology at the 200 level or higher, 12 of which must be at the 300 level or higher. Not more than four of the 20 credits may be from Biology 297, 299, 397, 399, or 499, Science 300, or independent study done elsewhere.
- Chemistry 129 General Chemistry
- Chemistry 221 Organic Chemistry I
- Mathematics 124 Functions and Integral Calculus or 131 Calculus I
Chemistry 222, Physics 131 and 132, and Mathematics 133 and 209 are recommended. With prior approval, a maximum of four credits of advanced work in a related field may be applied toward the major. At least half of the credits applied toward the biology major must be taken in residence at Grinnell.
To be considered for honors in biology, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors, must conduct an independent research project (either at Grinnell or elsewhere) and share their findings with fellow biologists in a departmental seminar. The award of honors is not based solely on grades and achievement in the classroom or lab. It signifies, in addition, an underlying commitment to the discipline as evidenced by participation in departmental affairs and activities (e.g., acting as a teaching assistant or mentor, or serving on the SEPC), including regular attendance at departmental seminars.
An introduction to how biologists pose questions, design experiments, analyze data, and communicate scientific information, for prospective biology and biological chemistry majors as well as nonmajors. Although individual sections will have different topics and formats, all sections will involve intensive student-directed investigation and include a laboratory component.
Investigations of the causes, functions, and origins of animal behavior. We will use an evolutionary perspective to understand and integrate common behavioral adaptations, e.g., obtaining food, avoiding predators, living in groups, communicating, mating, and caring for offspring. Laboratory projects emphasize design, analysis, and communication of quantitative tests of hypotheses carried out in the lab and field. Three lectures and one scheduled lab per week.
Investigations of the cellular and molecular basis of organismal structure and function, including studies of how organisms acquire and expend energy, acquire and transport materials, regulate internal conditions, transmit information, reproduce, develop, grow, and move. Three lectures and one scheduled lab each week.
Investigations of the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of organismal structure and function, including studies of why organisms acquire and expend energy, acquire and transport materials, regulate internal conditions, transmit information, reproduce, develop, grow, and move. Three lectures and one scheduled lab each week.
Note: Students who have completed the Biology 251/252 course sequence receive the equivalent of a standard undergraduate introductory genetics course, relevant for pre-professional programs and graduate schools.
This seminar course will consider how biological theories emerge and change in a complex environment of empirical knowledge and social/political concerns. Areas of study may include reproductive biology, evolution, genetics, ecology and conservation, and medicine. Three lecture/discussion sections each week.
Investigations of the history of Iowa’s plant diversity from three perspectives: 1) taxonomy and systematics; 2) paleoecology and community assembly; and 3) population structure, biogeography, and conservation. Three lectures and one laboratory each week.
An integrative survey of the fungal kingdom, emphasizing current topics in developmental biology, physiology, genetics, evolution, systematics, ecology, and human interactions with fungi. Combined lecture/lab periods meet two times each week for three hours. Emphasis is on interactive learning through field and laboratory investigations.
An assessment of the physiological, biochemical, and molecular mechanisms underlying the life processes of plants. This course will examine major plant functions with emphasis on the physiology and biochemistry of photosynthesis, respiration, nutrient metabolism, translocation, control of growth, and response of plants to environmental stress.
Study of the effects of life on the Earth’s chemistry. This course will examine the interactions among biological and chemical processes that determine the cycling of biologically significant elements in soils, sediments, waters, and the atmosphere. Lectures and discussions focus on current topics, with particular emphasis on the effects of human activity on biogeochemical cycles. Field and laboratory investigations emphasize quantitative analysis and experimental design. Three lecture/discussions and one laboratory per week.
An examination of the biology of freshwater systems, including lakes, rivers, and streams, and the linkages between aquatic and terrestrial environments. Lectures and discussions focus on current topics in freshwater biology. Laboratory and field investigations emphasize quantitative analysis and experimental design and include an independent project. One laboratory meeting and two lecture/discussion sessions each week.
This class will analyze the structure and evolution of the vertebrates, emphasizing functional morphology. We will consider vertebrate evolution and diversity, integument, biomaterials, and skulls; vertebral columns, lateral flexion, and the transition to terrestrial locomotion; circulatory systems; osmoregulatory structures; gas exchange; and sensory structures. In the lab, we will dissect animals such as sharks and cats and analyze other materials. We will close by focusing on morphological design and locomotion, and students will write a research proposal.
Genetics is an experimental approach that has been applied to questions in all areas of biology, answering fundamental questions about inheritance, cell mechanics, human disease, and evolutionary change. This course will introduce students to advanced genetic principles and techniques. We will then explore how these techniques have been applied to answer fundamental questions in biology by reading both classic and recent papers from the primary literature that utilize genetic approaches. We will also discuss some of the limitations of genetics as a scientific approach. The laboratory will emphasize multiweek projects using genetic techniques to study biological problems. Two three-hour meetings per week.
In this course we will examine the species concept and the dynamic nature of microbial populations in the environment, including how to define and measure relevant microbial populations. We will investigate the roles of microorganisms in key environmental processes including biogeochemical cycling and bioremediation of pollutants. Further topics include environmental pathogens, symbioses, and niche specialization. In the lab, students conduct seven-week independent projects. Two three-hour meetings per week.
An examination of the cellular and molecular aspects of development in a variety of organisms, with a focus on animals. The experimental basis for our current knowledge of developmental processes is presented. The laboratory includes work with vertebrate and invertebrate embryos. Three lectures, one laboratory each week.
We explore how scientists identify and characterize the genes required for animal and plant development, by reading and discussing papers from the primary literature that utilize molecular and classic genetic techniques. Topics include axis determination, cell fate decisions, tissue formation, sex determination, environmental influences on development, and evolutionary conservation of developmental mechanisms. In the laboratory, students do independent research projects on the model system C. elegans. Two three-hour meetings per week.
This course examines the structure, function, and development of the nervous system. Cellular and molecular mechanisms are emphasized and examples are drawn from throughout the animal kingdom. Three lectures and one scheduled laboratory each week.
This course examines the integrated function of tissues, organs, and organ systems from a molecular, cellular, and organismal perspective. Emphasis is placed on mechanisms underlying physiological processes found throughout the animal kingdom. Three lectures and one laboratory each week.
The structure, physiology, and genetics of the prokaryotes. Lectures include discussion of papers from the current literature. Laboratory features multi-week investigations. Two lectures and one laboratory each week.
Study of the distribution and abundance of organisms and of relationships between organisms and environments. Laboratories emphasize quantitative analysis and experimental design in ecology and include several field projects. Lectures focus on the development of ecological concepts and theory. Three lectures and one laboratory per week.
This course examines selected topics that are the focus of current research describing the molecular biology of eukaryotic cells. Events occurring in the nucleus, cytoplasm, and at the cell surface are considered. Laboratories emphasize techniques to study proteins in a variety of cell types including cells growing in culture.
This course examines the mechanisms of evolutionary change at both the micro- and macroevolutionary scales. Topics include the maintenance of genetic variation, population structure and speciation, molecular evolution, systematic methods and applications, and macroevolution. Three two-hour sessions per week.
An examination of the molecular biology of the cell and associated technology. The application of techniques such as molecular cloning, PCR amplification, DNA sequencing and hybridization to contemporary issues in biology are emphasized in lecture and laboratory. Two lectures and one laboratory per week.
- College Catalog