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BIOG 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 BIOG 1250 Seminar that is facilitated by enthusiastic faculty members who love teaching. Topic based seminars target first-year students and enrollment is limited to 20 students. The courses are usually held for two hours over seven weeks, and is awarded 1 credit 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 facilitate discussions.

Student Feedback

Random responses from students who were asked if they 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."

Spring 2019 Seminar Descriptions:


BIOG 1250: Introduction to the Neural Control of Animal Behavior

  • 1 credit, S/U, Mondays; January 22-March 18; 7:30-8:45 PM
  • Faculty: Bruce Johnson brj1@cornell.edu

We will explore how the nervous system enables animals to accomplish the wide variety of astounding behavioral adaptations necessary for survival.  Selected readings from “Governing Behavior: How Nerve Cell Dictatorships and Democracies Control Everything We Do” (Berkowitz, 2016) and “The Neuroethology of Predation and Escape” (SIllar et al., 2016) will focus discussion on animal behavior and the underlying neural mechanisms that keep prey and predators alive and reproducing.  No Neuroscience background required.

BIOG 1250: Biology of Sourdough

  • 1 credit, S/U, Thursdays; Plant Science Building G22; January 31-March 14; 2:30 PM-4:25 PM
  • Faculty: Keith Perry klp3@cornell.edu

This seminar will explore the biology and chemistry of processes underlying breadmaking practices, with an emphasis on sourdough.  Bread takes on a variety of forms and flavors in different parts of the world, whether white wheat sourdough, pumpernickel, whole grain breads, challah, brioche, bagels, injera, naan, or other flatbreads.  The bread product depends on the plants used as the source of the grain(s) (wheat, rye, maize, teff), the microorganisms used as leavening agents (dried yeast, sourdough cultures, spontaneous ferments), and the mode of preparation.  Concepts to be addressed include plant centers of origin, crop domestication, microbial communities, microbial succession, fermentation, and the biochemical changes associated with the transformation of natural plant products into food.  We will review scientific literature and discuss approaches to reading and understanding reports on biological research.  The format for the seminar will be a combination of reading-based discussion, lecture-discussion, and student presentations.

BIOG 1250: Genesis

This seminar will be co-taught by Drs. Stephen Winans (Microbiology) and Lisa Kaltenegger (Astronomy).  We will explore the current ideas about the origins of life on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets.  We will first look at the origins of the primitive earth from interstellar dust.  We will then study the prebiotic synthesis of the building blocks of protein and nucleic acids.  We will discuss how prebiotic lipids might have formed the membranes of proto-cells.  We will look at the central role of RNA as a catalyst, including its ability to replicate itself.  We will study the evolution of the ribosome, the genetic code, and the evolution of DNA from RNA.  We will trace the origins of eukaryotic cells.  Finally, we will explore the search for life on other planets.