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BIO 1250: Biology Seminar

Small groups explore a topic in biology while learning to think like a scientist

Are you interested in catching the excitement of biology by talking with a faculty member and other inquisitive students? If you answered yes, then consider enrolling in a BIO 1250 Seminar that is facilitated by enthusiastic faculty members who love teaching. Topic based seminars target first-year students with AP credit or a strong interest in research. Seminar enrollment is limited to 20 students, is usually held for two hours over seven weeks, and is awarded 1credit with an S/U grade only. The seminar goals are outlined below:

  • Increase the opportunity for students to have a meaningful interaction with a biologist
  • Perpetuate excitement in studying biology
  • Develop critical thinking skills by exploring topics in the biological sciences (review at least one scientific paper)
  • Increase sense of community by expanding social and academic networks
  • Learn the value of collaborative learning
  • Discuss ethical issues in science

Student evaluations have been very positive: 92% responded that the seminar helped develop critical thinking skills and 99% reported being able to interact comfortably with the professor. Many faculty seminar leaders enjoyed the freedom to use a more inquiry based learning model while giving students the opportunity to choose papers to review and take leadership for helping lead discussions.

Student Feedback: Random responses from students who were asked ifthey would recommend the seminar to other students.

"I definitely would. It piqued my interest in marine life. The lecturer was instrumental in doing that."

"Yes, it’s a great foundation-builder in biological research skills!"

"Yes. This course helped me feel less intimidated by scientific papers, introduced me to a variety of topics, and helped me understand the general format of scientific papers required by different journals."

"Yes I would recommend the course, it was very informative and would especially benefit anyone with an interest in botany or pharmaceuticals."

"I would definitely recommend this course to others. Not only did it help me understand some medical issues seniors have to face, it also helped me understand the economics of the US healthcare system. This class also exposed me to concepts I have never touched upon and it was interesting."

"It was good to study a variety of topics chosen by students who had an interest in them. An awesome idea for a course – combining both discussion of papers and practical laboratory skills."

"Yes, but only to those people who are serious about majoring in science and who want to improve their communication skills (i.e., as they present)."

"Yes. It’s a great experience in a wide range of areas/skills. I definitely would, it is a great way to learn a bit about microbiology. I really was not thinking about taking microbio but I think I will now."


SEMINAR TOPICS Seminar topics are listed below.


What can genomes tell us about bacterial pathogens? BIOMI 1250; 1 cr., S/U, Tuesdays 2:30-4:25PM, begins 9/9/14 in Mann Library B30B

Dr. Jim Shapleigh


The bacterium Escherichia coli can either be a harmless commensal or a deadly pathogen. In this class we will explore the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary forces that bring about the remarkable strain diversity found in E. coli and related bacteria.


Birds Can Tell Us Things and We Should Listen: An Introduction to Ornithology and Bird Study Techniques, BIOEE 1250; 1cr.,S/U, Thursdays, 1:25-3:20PM, begins 9/04/14 with shuttle pick-up to Lab of Ornitholgoy
Ron Rohrbaugh Jr.


Unlike most mammals that rely on a keen sense of smell, birds, like humans, use sounds and vivid color vision to survive and communicate with each other. Did you know that the sound frequency range of bird song is nearly identical to the range of human hearing? Birds have a lot to tell us, if we know what questions to ask. By using the principles of scientific inquiry to observe and listen to birds, we learn not only about birds, but about ecology, animal behavior, evolution, physics, and potential environmental threats to our planet. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, including bioacoustics, capture and sampling methods, genetics, citizen science, and conservation biology; this course will teach the fundamentals of ornithology and field techniques for studying birds. The seven, two-hour sessions will combine hands-on field and lab exercises with group discussions about critical thinking and the importance of framing a working scientific question. Bring your boots and binoculars and prepare to have some birding fun!


BIOG 1250: Disturbance ecology: trophic interactions in a changing climate, 1cr., S/U, Fridays, 11:15-12:05, beginning 9/5/14 in 1120 Comstock Hall
Dr. Mark Sarvary

The complexity of interactions among species is fascinating. These interactions are in constant flux as anthropogenic and natural disturbances have dramatic effects on the function and structure of ecosystems and on biodiversity. Just imagine how 17-year cicadas can temporarily interrupt the food web, how the arrival of climate refugees can disturb already established trophic interactions, or how a hydrilla outbreak will affect our own Cayuga Lake. In this seminar course we will discuss how anthropogenic and natural effects reshape ecosystems and change biodiversity. We will talk about natural disturbances such as wildfires, hurricanes and insect outbreaks, as well as anthropogenic disturbances such as increased carbon emissions, forest clearing, and the introduction of exotic species. You will read and analyze scientific papers, discuss hypothesis testing, critique experimental designs, and debate whether anything is constant under a changing climate.


BIOMG 1250:  HIV:  Immunity and Drug Design, 1 cr., Next Offered Spring 2015

We will cover a variety of topics that relate to HIV, AIDS, the immune system, and currently used anit-viral therapies.  The format of the course will vary from week to week but will include a case study, internet research, discussion, lab work, and computer graphics to learn about how protein structural information can be used to develop improved drugs.


BIOMG 1250:  The Genetics of Adaptation, 1 credit, Tim Connallon and Nancy Chen

Adaptation is the outcome of an interaction between natural selection and genetic variability within a population. Understanding the genetic basis of adaptation has long been a central goal of evolutionary biology. Fueled by the recent explosion of tools for genome sequencing and gene expression analysis, modern evolutionary biologists are finally well equipped to delve into the complex interplay between selection and variation during the process of adaptive evolutionary change. Moreover, this new research has many important implications for other subjects in biology that include human disease genetics, conservation biology, and the evolution of sex and mating systems. This course provides an introduction to the scientific study of the genetics of adaptation, by way of guest presentations by Cornell researchers, small group discussions, and a guided tour of the recent primary scientific literature that includes the most cutting edge findings within this fascinating area of research.


BIOMI 1250:  Microscopy and Imagination*; 1 cr., Barbara Eaglesham

“Animalcules” were first discovered in the 17th century by a cloth merchant who lacked scientific training but made up for it with an abundance of curiosity and a passion for seeing new things. He constructed his own microscope and used it well into his 70’s. See his discoveries for yourself in publications in Kroch Library’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collections. Learn some history of microscopy while preparing for research in a lab by gaining practical skills in phase contrast and fluorescence microscopy. You will also learn photomicrography and upload your own video of animalcules to YouTube. Explore the small!

*The ability of the mind to think of clever and original ideas, possibilities or solutions


BIOG 1250:  Is It Sense or Nonsense?  Sociobiological and Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behavior, offered Spring 2015 by Nirav Patel and Cole Gilbert

Evolution is the core concept in biology.  Evolution dominates biological sciences, but it is only now making inroads into sociobiology, primarily through evolutionary psychology and neurobiology.  The central questions to our evolution are why are we here, and why we behave in the way that we do.  In this course we explore sociobiological and evolutionary perspectives related to human behavior.  It is designed for students to investigate broadly why animals form social groups and the consequences that social life has on their behavior.  We will discuss the extent to which human behavior can legitimately be studied using evolutionary methods, giving special attention to sociobiology and social group behavior.  We will then explore underlying factors that quintessentially influence social traits such as schooling, cooperation, social dominance, and communication.  Finally, we will discuss the extent to which studies of social evolution can inform our understanding of human behavior.  The seminar format is based on short lectures, presentations, paper discussions, and active participation.