The Science of Sensory Perception


Fall 2015 quarter

Taught by

physics, biomedical engineering, optical imaging and microscopy


One year each of precalculus, general biology and general chemistry.  Students will need to be familiar with basic DNA and protein biochemistry. Mastery of precalculus (functions, algebra and trigonometry) will be necessary for success in this program.

Students in this lower-division physics/optics and upper-division biology program will gain exposure to how the sensory organs and systems for touch, taste, smell, hearing, and vision work on a basic scientific level.  Students will learn the fundamental steps in sensory perception, starting with the transmission of a given physical phenomenon from the outside world to a molecular cell receptor and ending with neurophysiologic interpretation by the brain.

The physics component of the program will focus primarily on the wave behavior and optics underlying the detection of sound and light. In the biology component, the somatosensory, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and visual systems will be used as focused topics to study more general concepts in molecular cell biology and neuroscience.

Weekly assignments will consist of textbook readings with assigned problem sets as well as primary scientific and review papers. Electrophysiology, cell signaling, synaptic function, neuroanatomy, psychophysics, and neural integration will be emphasized for each sensory system studied, with special emphasis on physics of the auditory and visual systems (wave propagation, interference, and ray optics). Laboratory sessions will reinforce the physics and biology concepts learned in lecture and provide students with opportunities to learn fundamental optical, cell, and molecular biology techniques.

This program is appropriate for students interested in pursuing further work in biophysics, biological research, neurobiology, and the biomedical sciences. Students who successfully complete this program will attain upper-division credit in cell biology, molecular biology, and neuroscience, and lower-division credit in both introductory physics (equivalent to one quarter of algebra-based physics) and biophysics.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

biochemistry, biology, neurobiology, biophysics, biological research, biomedical sciences and engineering, and veterinary medicine.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day

Final Schedule and Room Assignment


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Required Fees

$200 for lab kits and experimental materials.

Upper Division Science Credit

Those successfully completing all components of the program will receive eight upper-division credits in biology.


Date Revision
May 5th, 2015 Physics content updated in description.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall)

Class standing: Sophomore–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 50


Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16 credits): 10179
So - Sr (1-16 credits): 10562

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