Member of the Division of Science
Our biology curriculum is among the nation’s most innovative. From their very first biology class, Grinnell students learn how to think and act like biologists, actively investigating and interpreting the unity and diversity of life. Acknowledging that biology intersects with diverse disciplines and with societal issues, we encourage students to gain knowledge of other sciences and mathematics, to explore interdisciplinary issues, to participate in off-campus study, and to carry out independent research (in faculty research labs, at Grinnell’s Conard Environmental Research Area, or off-campus). In this way Grinnell biology students prepare for advanced study or careers in education, health professions, research, environmental science, biotechnology, conservation, and other fields. Our Department’s mission and its associated learning goals are accomplished through a curriculum that integrates teaching and research at all levels.
Mission. The Biology Department exists to provide an education that conveys the methods of biological inquiry, the foundations and frontiers of the life sciences (from molecules to ecosystems), and the relevance of biology to other disciplines and society.
Learning Goals. To accomplish our mission, we articulate three specific student learning outcomes that provide a structure for our curriculum:
- Students learn to acquire, think critically about, and effectively communicate relevant biological knowledge.
- Students understand key biological concepts and can apply them to all levels of biological organization, from molecules to ecosystems.
- Students understand ways biology interrelates with other sciences, disciplines, and society.
Curriculum. Biology investigates the processes of life at the molecular, cellular, organismal, population, and ecosystem levels. The study of biology can help students of all majors and interests become scientifically literate, and our curriculum centers 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.
We recommend that students considering a biology (or biological chemistry) major take both BIO 150 - Introduction to Biological Inquiry and CHM 129 - General Chemistry in their first year, in either order. We also recommend that first-year students take calculus ( MAT 123 - Functions and Differential Calculus – MAT 124 - Functions and Integral Calculus or MAT 131 - Calculus I) or applied statistics (MAT 209). In the first semester of their second year, students should take both BIO 251 - Molecules, Cells, and Organisms and its co-requisite, CHM 221 - Organic Chemistry I. In the second semester, students continuing as biology majors should enroll in BIO 252 - Organisms, Evolution, and Ecology. In the third and fourth years, careful planning with faculty advisers will help students schedule a set of appropriate advanced electives, also considering options for independent research in biology and off-campus study.
Excellent laboratory and field facilities support the biology program. Biology Department space in the Noyce Science Center includes classrooms, teaching labs, faculty research labs, a greenhouse, a herbarium, 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, scanning UV-visible spectrophotometers and plate readers, a luminometer, electrophysiological suites and tissue bath systems, C/N, TOC, and FIA autoanalyzers, mammalian cell-culture equipment, an Odyssey CLx infrared imaging system, and a quantitative, real-time PCR system, as well as standard equipment for molecular biology. The department also manages the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA), a 148-hectare (365-acre) biological field station 11 miles from campus, which includes oak woodland, savanna, tallgrass prairie, diverse aquatic habitats, and several long-term experimental areas. The Environmental Education Center at CERA supports teaching and research in biology, the arts, and other subjects with excellent classroom, collection, and greenhouse facilities.
Major Requirements: a minimum of 32 credits
Core Requirements: 12 credits
Additional Courses: 20 credits
- 20 credits of 200-level or higher elective courses in Biology or BCM 262
- At least 12 of the credits must be at the 300-level or higher
- At least 12 of the credits must include a lab component
- At least 12 of the credit must be Grinnell courses
CHM 222 , PHY 131 , PHY 132 , and MAT 209 are recommended.
Not more than 5 of the 20 credits may be taken from BIO 297, BIO 299, BIO 397, BIO 399, BIO 499, SCI 300 (see additional information in Individual Study, Internships, and Practica ) or independent study done elsewhere.
With prior approval, a maximum of four credits of advanced work in a related field may be applied toward the major. The following courses are on the approved list: ANT 221 , ANT 325 , NRS 250 , PSY 336 .
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.