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The introductory biology sequence consists of three courses (BIOL 161, 162, 163) each offered during the spring and fall semesters. It is very important that students who are considering the biology major should start their science (biology and chemistry) and mathematics courses during their first year. Entry to the biology major is by application, and students may only apply after having completed either two biology courses, or a biology course and a cognate course with a lab. Students with a strong science background (e.g., AP courses) should take two science courses each semester and mathematics; others may take different loads as described on the First-Year Student website at

  • For those potential biology majors who are interested in health professions and/or cellular and molecular biology, we highly recommend CHEM 181 during the fall semester and CHEM 221 during the spring semester. Students should also take BIOL 161 beginning either the fall or spring. We also recommend taking mathematics.  
  • Students whose interests lie in ecological or organismal biology should take mathematics and biology (BIOL 161) during the first semester. Students with strong science backgrounds may also take chemistry starting in the fall with CHEM 181.  

Most students should plan to complete their mathematics requirement and at least two science courses (either chemistry or biology) in their first year. The appropriate mathematics course depends on a student’s mathematical background. Please read the advisory information under Mathematics.

BIOL 161
Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology
Common Area: Natural Science

Biology 161 is an introductory course designed for potential biology majors and for students interested in the health professions. The goal is to provide students with a strong foundation in biology at the smallest scales–processes at the chemical and cellular levels. Emphasis is placed on biological molecules, metabolic pathways such as those of energy metabolism, cellular transport, signaling and coordination, cellular replication and molecular biology including the regulation of gene expression. This course is a prerequisite for many upper-division courses in biology and involves three lectures and one laboratory period per week.

BIOL 159  
Biochemical Foundation of Life
Common Area: Natural Science

BIOL 159 provides an in-depth introduction to the chemical foundations of biology. The goal of the course is to explore the amazing world of cell and molecular biology, while solidifying a foundation in biochemistry and developing skills to approach problems in chemistry and biology. The course covers how atoms bond to form molecules and how molecules assemble into the macromolecules responsible for biological processes. These understandings are then used to examine the structure and functions of cells and their organelles and membranes. While no formal lab is associated with this course, we will consider the nature of science as a discipline and how experiments test hypotheses to generate new knowledge. We will have several days in a laboratory setting, dedicated to the active investigation of biochemical principles. Successful completion of BIOL 159 prepares students to continue to BIOL 161, Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology and to CHEM 181, Atoms and Molecules.

Other courses: The biology department also offers courses designed for students who do not intend to major in a natural science. These courses, numbered BIOL 114 or BIOL 117, provide credit toward the College’s Natural Science Common Area Requirement and some also count toward the Environmental Studies major and minor. None of these courses can be used toward the biology major.

BIOL 114 Section 01
Biological Principles: The History of Life on Earth
Common Area: Natural Science

This course provides an overview of the history of life on Earth and the science that goes into understanding how life changes over time. The semester will begin by examining the processes that underlie evolution and some of the associated history and philosophy. The second half of the semester will focus on the pattern of evolution by walking through the fossil record, with a focus on major innovations (evolution of jaws, moving to land, etc.), comparing and contrasting major groups (Cambrian Explosion, dinosaurs, etc.), and mass extinctions.

BIOL 114 Section 02
Biological Principles: Topic TBA
Common Area: Natural Science

These courses introduce non-science majors to principles and modes of inquiry underlying the study of living things. Each course examines a subset of subject matter, which may range from biological molecules and cells to the structure and function of organisms to interactions of organisms with their environments. All courses in this series share the common goal of providing a rigorous introduction both to the methods of scientific inquiry and to the content of the discipline. Recently taught subjects include evolution, microbiology, cancer, environmental biology, the molecular biology of the HIV pandemic, toxicants and radiation, biology of the brain, biology of aging, human anatomy and physiology, the unseen world, oceans and people, Mesozoic life and conservation biology.

BIOL 117
Environmental Science
Common Area: Natural Science

The goal of this course is to provide an understanding of major environmental problems by studying their biological bases. Applied and basic material will be integrated in most sections. Basic topics include ecosystem structure, energy flow, biogeochemical cycles, population growth and regulation, and environmental policy. Applied topics include human population growth, agriculture and food production, pest control, conservation of forests and wildlife, preservation of biological diversity, energy use, water and air pollution, and atmospheric climate change.

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