Member of the Division of Science
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 BIO 150 - Introduction to Biological Inquiry and CHM 129 - General Chemistry in their first year. These courses may be taken in either order. It also recommends that students take calculus (MAT 123 – MAT 124 or MAT 131 ) during their first year. In the first semester of their second year, students should take both BIO 251 - Molecules, Cells, and Organisms and CHM 221 - Organic Chemistry I . Students continuing as biology majors should then enroll in BIO 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 widefield fluorescence microscopes, high-speed and ultra centrifuges, a liquid scintillation spectrometer, photodocumentation systems, scanning UV-visible spectrophotometers and plate readers, a luminometer, electrophysiological suites, C/N, TOC, and FIA autoanalyzers, and a quantitative, real-time PCR system, as well as equipment for DNA 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 Environmental Education Center at CERA supports teaching and research in biology, the arts, and other subjects with excellent classroom, collection, and greenhouse facilities.