Introduction to Natural Sciences

Fall 2016, Winter 2017, and Spring 2017 quarters

Taught by

Clarissa Dirks
biology, virology, molecular biology
James Neitzel
biology, biochemistry
  • UG


Students should have a solid understanding of mathematics at the Algebra II or pre-calculus level.

This program will offer students a conceptual and methodological introduction to biology and chemistry. In order to understand our world from a scientific perspective, we need to be able to analyze complex systems at multiple levels. We need to understand the ways that matter transforms chemically and how energy and entropy drive those transformations. Biological systems can be understood at the molecular level, but we also need to know about cells, organisms, and ecological systems and how they change over time. The language for describing these systems is both quantitative and computational. We will have a strong focus on the evolutionary mechanisms that have led to the current life on earth, and interpretation and design of experimental tests for hypotheses in biology and chemistry.

The integration of biology and chemistry will assist us in asking and answering questions that lie in the intersections of these fields. Such topics include the chemical structure of DNA, the flow of nutrients and energy through ecosystems, mathematical modeling of biological population growth, equations governing chemical equilibria and kinetics, and the algorithms underlying bioinformatics. Program activities will include lectures, small group problem-solving workshops, laboratory and field work, and seminar discussions. Students will learn to describe their work through scientific writing and public presentations. Our laboratory work in biology and chemistry will also allow us to observe phenomena, collect data, and gain firsthand insight into the complex relationship between mathematical models and experimental results. There will be a significant laboratory component—students can expect to spend at least a full day in the lab each week, maintain laboratory notebooks, write formal laboratory reports, and give formal presentations of their work. Biology laboratories in this program will include participation in the SEA-PHAGE program coordinated by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the use of bioinformatics tools on a bacteriophage genome.

In addition to studying current scientific theories, we will consider the historical, societal, and personal factors that influence our thinking about the natural world. We will also examine the impacts on societies due to changes in science and technology. Spring quarter there will be an opportunity for small student groups to conduct independent, scientific investigations designed in collaboration with program faculty.

This program is designed for students who want a solid preparation for further study in the sciences. Students who only want to get a taste of science will find this program quite demanding and should consult with faculty before the program begins. Overall, we expect students to end the program in spring with a working knowledge of scientific, mathematical, and computational concepts, ability to reason critically and to solve problems, and with hands-on experience in natural science.

Program Details

Fields of Study

biology chemistry

Preparatory For

physical and biological sciences, medicine and health sciences, scientific writing, environmental sciences, and education.


Fall Open Winter Conditional Spring Closed

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First spring class meeting: Tuesday, April 4th at 9am (Sem II A1107)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$115 in fall for an overnight field trip.

May be offered again in

Fall 2017-18


2016-04-22Fall fee added ($115).
2016-01-25Riley Rex joined the teaching team.