A Caltech Library Service

The great ideas of biology: Exploration through experimentation in an undergraduate lab course

Finch, L. and Horii, C. V. and Phillips, R. and Bois, J. S. (2016) The great ideas of biology: Exploration through experimentation in an undergraduate lab course. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 27 . Art. No. P830. ISSN 1059-1524.

[img] PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


We developed an introductory laboratory course to provide a visceral experience that aims at getting students truly excited about scientific study of the living world. Our vehicle to do that was to focus on what Paul Nurse dubbed “the great ideas of biology” rather than an approach to biology that celebrates specific factual knowledge. To that end, we developed eight diverse experimental modules, each of which highlights a key biological concept and gives an opportunity to use theory to generate testable hypotheses, to perform high quality measurements to test those hypotheses (some of which are clearly wrong), and to perform sophisticated computational data analysis. Some modules incorporate modern microscopy and computational techniques in classic experiments, such as bacterial growth and the Luria‐Delbrück experiment, while others address current research questions using methods like optogenetics and single molecule measurements. We have offered the course eight times, and in the most recent edition of the course, we conducted pre/post‐course interviews and attitude surveys. The students, both bio and non‐bio majors alike, reported being captivated by seeing life occur across the broad range of experiments and model organisms. We observed demonstrable development of their curiosity and enthusiasm for biology. Additionally, we found that prior to the course, students had only vague notions about what it means to make quantitative biological measurements and interpret them. They completed the course with a clearer understanding of scientific inquiry in biology and the skills and confidence to actually perform and interpret measurements in living systems.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Website
Bois, J. S.0000-0001-7137-8746
Additional Information:© 2016 American Society for Cell Biology.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20170331-134057165
Persistent URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:75597
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:01 Apr 2017 04:48
Last Modified:01 Apr 2017 04:48

Repository Staff Only: item control page