Biology

Biology is the study of life in its broadest sense, ranging from topics such as the role of trees in affecting global atmospheric carbon dioxide down to the molecular mechanisms that switch genes on and off in human brain cells. Biology includes a tremendous variety of disciplines: molecular biology, immunology, histology, anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, behavior, evolution, ecology, and many others. Because Sarah Lawrence College faculty members are broadly trained and frequently teach across the traditional disciplinary boundaries, students gain an integrated knowledge of living things—a view of the forest as well as the trees.

In order to provide a broad introduction and foundation in the field of biology, a number of courses appear under the designation General Biology Series. Each of these open-level, semester-long courses have an accompanying lab component. Students may enroll in any number of the General Biology Series courses during their time at Sarah Lawrence and in any order, although it is strongly recommended that students begin with General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution in the fall semester. Completion of any two General Biology Series courses fulfills the minimum biology curriculum requirements for medical school admission. These courses typically meet the prerequisite needs for further intermediate- and advanced-level study in biology, as well.

2017-2018 Courses

Biology

First-Year Studies: Urban Ecology

Open , FYS—Year

Ecology is a scientific discipline that studies interactions between living organisms and their environments, as well as processes governing how species are distributed, how they interact, and how nutrients and energy cycle through ecosystems. Although we may think of these processes occurring in “natural” areas with little to no human development, all of these processes still take place in environments heavily modified by humans, such as cities. This course will cover fundamental concepts in the discipline of ecology and then further explore how these patterns and processes are altered (sometimes dramatically) in urban environments. We will use examples from our local environment—the New York City Metropolitan Area—to understand ecological concepts in light of urbanization. The fall semester will include a weekly outdoor lab session at local parks and field stations. Special attention will be paid to the ecology of the Hudson River, including field trips and work involving the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak.

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open , Lecture—Fall

Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. Finally, we conclude the semester by examining how these principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and process by which such advances in biological understanding are made. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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An Introduction to HIV

Open , Seminar—Fall

HIV is among the most researched viral pathogens in human history; yet, despite many major breakthroughs in treatment, a true cure still eludes us. From the virus’s rapid mutation rate, as well the selective targeting of major immune response regulators, HIV seems a thing of nightmares slowly robbing its victims of their ability to defend themselves from the hordes of microbes that surround us. In this course, we will discuss a brief history of HIV and its 30+ years epidemic that is responsible for the deaths of more than 35 million people to date. We will then look at how the virus replicates and spreads in humans, how the immune system fights back, and how HIV overcomes this resistance. We will also cover the research methodology that has been used to keep the virus at bay, as well as the hurdles are standing in the way of its complete eradication.

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Primate Origins of Human Behavior

Open , Seminar—Fall

Homo sapiens are the only species to inhabit every continent, to grow our own food, to use complex language and grammar. But how unique are these behaviors when compared to our closest primate relatives? How do our definitions of humanity change when we understand our place in nature? This course serves as an introduction to animal behavior, using primates as a focal point. The course explores the ways in which behaviors can evolve as adaptations shaped by natural selection and the complex interrelationships of behavior, ecology, and evolutionary history. Beginning with a discussion of our place in nature, we will discuss how our biological heritage as primates can elucidate human communication, sex differences, innovation, childhood, altruism, and aggression. The goals of the course are to instill a basic understanding of human and nonhuman primate behavioral ecology and to challenge the ways in which we define our species as unique.

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Genetics

Open , Seminar—Fall

With the astounding diversity of life as we know it, it is shocking to see how unified we are by the molecules that encode life. The replication and transmission of genetic material is central to the continued existence of all organisms. In this course, we will discuss the replication of genetic material at both the molecular level and the chromosomal level in both mitosis and meiosis. In addition, we will discuss the expression of genes and how this highly regulated process controls the physical and behavioral features of an organism. We will also cover the technology that we have used to edit organisms at the genetic level and finally conclude with genetics at the population level. This class also involves weekly lab sessions that reinforce the genetics concepts learned in class with hands-on experiments.

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Forensic Biology

Open , Seminar—Spring

From hit television shows such as CSI, Bones, Dexter, and Forensic Files, to newspaper headlines that breathlessly relate the discovery of a murder victim’s remains, and to Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox, and other real-life courtroom cases, it is clear that the world of forensic science has captured the public's imagination. Forensic science describes the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems and encompasses an impressively wide variety of subdisciplines and areas of expertise, ranging from forensic anthropology to wildlife forensics. In this course, we will specifically focus on the realm of forensic biology—the generation and use of legally relevant information gleaned from the field of biology. In an effort to move beyond sensationalism and the way it is portrayed in the public media, we will explore the actual science and techniques that form the basis of forensic biology and seek to understand the use and limitations of such information in the legal sphere. Beginning with the historical development of forensic biology, selected topics will likely include death and stages of decomposition, determination of postmortem intervals, the role of microorganisms in decomposition, vertebrate and invertebrate scavenging, wound patterning, urban mummification, biological material collection and storage, victim and ancestral identification by genetic analysis, the use of DNA databases such as CODIS, and the biological basis of other criminalistics procedures, including fingerprinting and blood-type analysis. Finally, we will consider DNA privacy and Supreme Court rulings, including the Maryland v. King decision (2013) that established the right of law enforcement to take DNA samples from individuals arrested for a crime. In all of these areas, the techniques and concepts employed are derived from some of the most fundamental principles and structure-function relationships that underlie the entire field of biology. No background in biology is required; indeed, a primary objective of this course is to use our exploration within the framework of forensic biology as a means to develop a broader and more thorough understanding of the science of biology.

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Global Change Biology

Open , Seminar—Spring

Climate change. Biodiversity loss. Nutrient pollution. Invasive species. Global ecosystems are being altered in dramatic ways due to human activities. In order to address these challenges, we first need to understand them scientifically. This course will explore the impacts of global environmental change through the lens of the biological sciences. Should humans assist with tree migration so that slow-migrating plants can catch up to changing temperature conditions? How are invasive predators like Burmese pythons in Florida affecting mammal populations? How can the extensive use of fertilizers upstream in a large river affect biological communities downstream? How has overfishing altered marine biodiversity? How could urbanization and habitat loss alter the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to humans? We will use scientific journal articles and other primary sources to address these kinds of questions and more in this seminar course.

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General Biology Series: Photosynthetic Life

Open , Seminar—Spring

Billions of years of oxygenic photosynthesis has altered the Earth's atmosphere and modified its landscape. From single-celled cyanobacteria to towering redwoods, photosynthesis produces the fuel that powers the food webs upon which all life depends. Rubisco, a key enzyme in photosynthesis, has been identified as the single most-abundant protein on Earth. In this course, students will develop an understanding of the origin and diversity of photosynthetic life, including cyanobacteria, marine and freshwater algae, and land plants. Concepts will be placed in an evolutionary framework that demonstrates the interconnected history of life. Seminars will be supplemented by lab sections, in which students will be exposed to the diversity of photosynthetic organisms and will learn to identify representative species and key morphological features and adaptations.

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General Biology Series: Anatomy and Physiology

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is intended to follow General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution and emphasizes anatomical and physiological aspects of life.

Anatomy is the branch of science that explores the bodily structure of living organisms, while physiology is the study of the normal functions of these organisms. In this course, we will transition to the exploration of the human body in both health and disease. Focus will be placed on the major body units such as skin, skeletal/muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. By emphasizing concepts rather than the memorization of facts, we will make associations between anatomical structures and their functions. The course will take a clinical approach to anatomy and physiology, with examples drawn from medical disciplines such as radiology, pathology, and surgery. In addition, a separate weekly laboratory component will reinforce key topics. Assessment will include weekly quizzes and a final conference paper at the conclusion of the course. The topic for the paper will be chosen by each student to emphasize the relevance of anatomy/physiology to our understanding of the human body.

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Neurobiology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Neurons evolved early in the development of eukaryotes. These hardy and sophisticated cells allowed the evolution of organisms as complicated as mammals. Indeed, the mammalian brain represents the most complicated matter in the known universe; it is the only tissue known to give rise to thought and emotions. Much of what we now know of neurons has come from the study of simple organisms, the classic example being the description of the action potential of the squid axon. Consequently, this course will explore the evolution of neurons from those found in simple sea creatures to those found in the human brain. Topics covered will include anatomy, cell biology, biochemistry, and biophysics, as these subjects pertain to neurons and the surrounding support cells. Finally, the impact of these cells on behavior will be discussed.

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Disease Ecology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course explores infectious diseases—disease caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other parasites—through the lens of ecology. Thinking like a disease ecologist means asking questions about disease at different scales. Rather than just considering interactions between an individual host and a parasite, we will look at disease at the population, community, and ecosystem levels. A disease ecologist may ask questions such as: How does a disease make a jump from one species to another? Why are some environments so conducive to disease transmission? How can we make better predictions of where and when new diseases may emerge and develop better management strategies to combat them? A disease ecologist may even consider infected hosts as ecosystems, where pathogens feed on hosts, compete with one another, and face off with the host’s immune system or its beneficial microbiome. Mathematical models of disease transmission and spread will be introduced. We will consider examples from plant, wildlife, and human disease systems.

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Developmental Biology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

A one-cell embryo is the ultimate stem cell; from this modest starting point, every tissue required for a self-contained organism can be generated. This survey course will explore which pathways that single cell takes to grow and specify into the complex organisms that we are. We will use classical model systems (fly, worm, fish, frog, chick, and mouse) to explore this fascinating process. Our discussion will begin by understanding how germ cells are specified and the signals that dictate how they multiply and differentiate after fertilization. Next, we will investigate how an embryo is patterned, exploring axis-formation, morphogenesis, homeotic genes, and organogenesis. Finally, we will consider these processes in the context of human development and their relevance to modern medicine.

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Stem Cells and Regeneration

Advanced , Seminar—Spring
Do we have what it takes to fix ourselves? Can we generate our own spare parts to cure diseases? This advanced course will delve into the emerging world of stem-cell therapies and regenerative processes. We will explore the natural world of regeneration, studying classical examples in zebrafish and axolotl. For decades, we have been fascinated by these models and the system’s ability to regrow limbs and self-repair traumatic injuries. This course will explore the cellular mechanisms that facilitate complex pathways of organ repair. Our discussions will continue by exploring new therapeutic technologies that exploit these developmental processes and the applications of adult stem cells in modern disease interventions. This course will also consider the implications of stem-cell genome editing and cloning in the future of human medicine.
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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Mathematical prerequisite: basic high school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, statistical significance, and margin of error. You’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they important? And what exactly fueled the failure of statistical polls and projections leading up to the 2016 US presidential election? An introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course, and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Conference work will serve as a complete practicum of the theory learned in lecture: Students working closely in small teams will conceive, design, and fully execute a small-scale research study. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Mathematical Modeling I: Multivariable Calculus

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: successful completion of Calculus II or the equivalent (a score of 4 or 5 on the Calculus BC Advanced Placement exam).

It is difficult to overstate the importance of mathematics for the sciences. Twentieth century polymath John von Neumann even declared that the “sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which…describes observed phenomena.” This two-semester sequence will introduce students to the basic mathematical ingredients that constitute models in the natural and social sciences. This first course in the sequence will concentrate on extending the concepts and tools developed in single-variable calculus to work with multiple variables. Multivariable calculus is a natural setting for studying physical phenomena in two or three spatial dimensions. We begin with the notion of a vector, a useful device that combines quantity and direction, and proceed to vector functions, their derivatives (gradient, divergence, and curl), and their integrals (line integrals, surface integrals, and volume integrals). The inverse relationship between derivative and integral appearing in single-variable calculus takes on new meaning and depth in the multivariable context, and a goal of the course is to articulate this through the theorems of Green, Gauss, and Stokes. These results will be of particular interest to students pursuing physics, engineering, or economics, where they are widely applicable. Students will gain experience developing mathematical models through conference work, which will culminate in an in-depth application of seminar ideas to a mathematical model in the natural, formal, or social sciences, based on student interest.

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Mathematical Modeling II: Differential Equations and Linear Algebra

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Mathematical Modeling I or the equivalent (college-level course in multivariable calculus).

At the center of many mathematical models, one often finds a differential equation. Newton’s laws of motion, the logistic model for population growth, and the Black-Scholes model in finance are all examples of models defined by a differential equation; that is, an equation in terms of an unknown function and its derivatives. Most differential equations are unsolvable; however, there is much to learn from the tractable examples, including first-order equations and second order linear equations. Since derivatives are themselves linear approximations, an important approach to differential equations involves the algebra of linear transformations, or linear algebra. Building on the study of vectors begun in Mathematical Modeling I, linear algebra will occupy a central role in the course, with topics that include linear independence, Gaussian elimination, eigenvectors, and eigenvalues. Students will gain experience developing mathematical models through conference work, which will culminate in an in-depth application of seminar ideas to a mathematical model in the natural, formal, or social sciences, based on student interest.

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Art and Visual Perception

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how visual neuroscience and art-making can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience.

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Challenges to Development: Child and Adolescent Psychopathology

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

For graduate students and for juniors and seniors by permission of the instructor.

This course addresses the multiple factors that play a role in shaping a child’s development, particularly as those factors may result in what we think of as psychopathology. Starting with a consideration of what the terms “normality” and “pathology” may refer to in our culture, we will read about and discuss a variety of situations that illustrate different interactions of inborn, environmental, and experiential influences on developing lives. For example, we will read theory and case material addressing congenital conditions such as deafness and life events such as acute trauma and abuse, as well as the range of less clear-cut circumstances and complex interactions of variables that have an impact on growth and adaptation in childhood and adolescence. In discussing readings drawn from clinical and developmental psychology, memoir, and research studies, we will examine a number of the current conversations and controversies about assessment, diagnostic/labeling, early intervention, use of psychoactive medications, and treatment modalities. Students will be required to engage in fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or elsewhere and may choose whether to focus conference projects on aspects of that experience.

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Body and Soul: Drawing From Life

Open , Seminar—Year

For a visual artist, the human form provides a subject unlike no other. Descriptively, emotively, biologically, and culturally, the figure is a mirror, the representation of who we are as well as who we wish to be. For the artist, a true understanding of the human form—its unique formal, symbolic, narrative, psychological, and historical role—comes through prolonged and detailed exploration. The potential of the human form as an artistic resource will be the focus of this yearlong course. Daily exercises, both in and outside the studio, that stress the development of personal vision and disciplined work habits will be key to growing each student’s observational and technical skills. Over the course of the year—using both observation and memory, as well as a variety of materials and methods and an analysis of the relationships between gesture and form, rhythm and movement, and structure and biology—will lay the foundation necessary for individual expression.

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Eco Poetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of the Earth and the stars—we will consider the great organism Gaia of which we are a part. We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder and to utterly contemporary poets such as Brenda Hillman and Chase Twichell. We will consider the Earth and the fullness thereof. We will take field trips, watch films, study trees and plants, and listen to birdsong. We will write a poem a week, read, meet together in poetry dates, observe, and learn. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will have a collection of poems that somehow sing to it and to the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other animals? What is a star? What is occurring right now in the deep ocean? What does it mean that everything seems to eat everything? (Again) what is death? What is time? Which bird is that singing right now?

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