Why take courses in this discipline?

The study of biology helps students of all majors and interests become scientifically literate through courses that center on the practice of biological science. Students in our introductory course engage in authentic research by making original observations, designing and executing investigations that address important biological questions, analyzing and interpreting scientific data, and communicating their findings. Intermediate-level courses expose students to the central concepts and diverse approaches that underpin the full range of biological organization, from molecules to ecosystems. Advanced courses provide in-depth opportunities to explore a broad spectrum of biology sub-disciplines, enriching students’ ability to read and write scientific literature, to think independently while working collaboratively, and to prepare for future work.

How does this discipline contribute to the liberal arts?

Biological science investigates the natural world, relies on knowledge from the other sciences and mathematics, and its nature as a human endeavor connects it with a range of non-scientific disciplines. Biological knowledge is gained through a process that engages students in critical analysis of the scientific literature, quantitative reasoning, and collaborative investigation. Biologists must learn to use written, oral and visual presentation methods to communicate their work, both to other scientists and to those who are not science-literate.  Biologists must develop an awareness of the ethical implications and social impact of their work.

What kinds of questions are asked in this discipline?

Biology addresses questions about mechanisms that explain the structure, function, and variation in biological phenomena observed at the molecular, cellular, organismal, population, and ecosystem levels. Understanding how to ask and answer such questions prepares students for careers in research, education, environmental science, the health professions, conservation, or a range of other fields.

How does a student get started?

The biology curriculum starts with Introduction to Biological Inquiry (BIO 150). Multiple sections of this course are taught in workshop format (combining lecture, discussion, and lab) each semester. Each section covers a different topic, but all stress the process of biological science. (Descriptions of the sections offered each semester are included in the Schedule of Courses.) BIO 150 is a prerequisite for intermediate and advanced study in biology, even for students with biology AP credit.

Students interested in majoring in biology should take both BIO 150 and CHM 129 or CHM 210 (General or Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry) in their first year in either order, as well as MAT 131 (or MAT 123 and 124). [Note: Students with chemistry AP/IB credit must take CHM 210 as a prerequisite to CHM 221 instead of CHM 129.]

Biology majors must also take CHM 221, and many take additional courses in mathematics, statistics, physics, chemistry, and biological chemistry.

AP/IB Credit

A score of 4 or 5 on the AP biology exam or IB-5 in biology is counted as four credits in the science division but does not count for major credit.  All students intending to major in biology or biological chemistry must take our BIO-150 course; even those with AP/IB credit.

Courses in Biology

All Courses in Biology

Regularly Offered 200-Level Courses

  • Molecules, Cells, and Organisms
  • Organisms, Evolution, and Ecology
  • Racing through Genetics
  • Animal Behavior
  • Introduction to Biological Chemistry (BCM 262)

Recent Advanced Courses

  • History of Biological Thought
  • Evolution of the Iowa Flora
  • Fungal Biology
  • Plant Physiology
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Aquatic Biology
  • Comparative Vertebrate Morphology
  • Advanced Genetics
  • Developmental Genetics
  • Neurobiology
  • Animal Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Ecology
  • Advanced Cell Biology
  • Mechanisms of Evolution
  • Principles of Pharmacology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Readings in Biology
  • Immunology

Recent Special Topics

  • Art/Biology Investigations through Drawing
Sample Four-Year Plan for a Biology Major
Year Fall Spring

BIO 150 or CHM 129
MAT 131 (or 123)

BIO 150 or CHM 129
(or MAT 124)


BIO 251
CHM 221++

BIO 252
CHM 222 or MAT 209**

Third Off-campus study BIO 3XX, BIO 3XX
PHY 131**
Fourth BIO 3XX, PHY 132** BIO 3XX, BIO 3XX

**These courses are recommended but not required

++For students with chemistry AP/IB credit CHM 210 is prerequisite to CHM 221.

In their third and fourth years students should complete 20 biology elective credits. Certain courses (e.g., in anthropology, neuroscience, and psychology) can replace one elective. Please check with your adviser.  

Off-Campus Study

There are many off-campus study programs that offer upper-level biology classes. Generally, biology courses taken at other institutions can count toward the major if they are sufficiently biological in content and are assessed by the biology faculty to meet the standards of our 200- or 300-level courses.  Up to 8 credits from off-campus study can be applied toward the major, including up to 5 research credits.

Contributions to Other Majors/Concentrations

Courses in biology contribute to the biological chemistry major and to the environmental studies, global development studies, neuroscience, and science, medicine, and society concentrations.

Department Events and Opportunities

Employment opportunities within the department, at CERA, and in the greenhouse, seminar series, awards, grants, fellowships, etc.

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