Grinnell College turned the biology curriculum upside down, involving entry-level biology students in cutting-edge research and offering a unique, hands-on, research-based introductory course — Biology 150: Introduction to Biological Inquiry. 

Grinnellians’ first course in biology and biological chemistry is an introduction to how biologists pose questions, design experiments, analyze data, and communicate scientific information.

Several sections are offered each fall and all involve intensive student-directed investigation. 

Grinnell faculty designed the unusual course structure based on our growing understanding of how people best learn scientific principles.  Each section focuses on a different biological problem; instead of students learning the same list of biological facts in each section, students practice the same skills. Students design and carry out independent research projects, then analyze and report the results in scientific papers, posters and oral presentations.

This year’s topics include:

  • Microbial Pathogenesis — Investigate the biology of bacteria and viruses, factors important for biofilm formation, how microorganisms become resistant to antibiotics, and how we protect our food and ourselves from microorganisms.
  • Plant Genetics and the Environment — Study the relationship between genetics and the environment and to explore the mechanisms plants use to acclimate and adapt to changes in their environment.
  • The Effects of Climate Change on Organisms — Examine the effects of predicted changes in temperature, moisture and carbon dioxide levels on organismal and ecosystem function through experimental investigation.
  • The Language of Neurons — Work as a neuroscientist for a semester and attempt to learn something novel about how nerve cells communicate with one another at chemical synapses in a substantial independent project. Papers will be published in the class journal, Pioneering Neuroscience: The Grinnell Journal of Neurophysiology.
  • Cell Fate: Calvin or Hobbes? — Examine the fate of cells during embryonic development, addressing questions such as: How is the fate of a cell determined? How does a cell 'know' it is supposed to become a nerve cell? Or part of the gut? How does it know its location within the embryo?



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