Foundations of Biology course information

The Foundations of Biology course sequence for biological sciences majors takes an active learning approach that challenges students to apply their knowledge and work collaboratively to solve real-world problems. 

The goal in Foundations is not to teach biology; it is rather to train biologists. As such, students gain a background not only in the biological content standard for an introductory course—albeit in a sophisticated and integrated manner — but also develop the skills (e.g, in communication, collaboration, information management, self-assessment) required for a person to be a successful scientist within the discipline of biology.

BIOL 1951/1951H: Foundations of Biology for Biological Sciences Majors, Part I

BIOL 1951/1951H is intended for majors in the College of Biological Sciences. It is the "concept lab" (in place of lecture and complementary to "research lab") for the first semester of the Foundations sequence). The course content emphasizes evolution, organismal diversity, and genetics within the context of problem-solving and application of understanding. Student assessment is individually as well as team-based, with the latter occurring through a series of short-term and long-term inquiry projects. Students are tasked with thinking like biologists as they read and critique primary scientific literature, work on team projects, and analyze experimental results to draw conclusions about the operation of the biological world. Active participation by students is required.

BIOL 1961: Foundations of Biology for Biological Sciences Majors, Part I Laboratory

BIOL 1961 is the "research lab" component for the first semester of the Foundations sequence. Students are challenged to formulate scientific questions, make observations, develop hypotheses, and design and conduct experiments. Students are also introduced to advanced tools of the discipline (e.g., protein and DNA analysis, PCR, fluorescent microscopy, phylogenetic analysis, bioinformatics) so as to build a research “toolkit.” The complexity of the lab work ensures that there will be unexpected results, mistakes, and an opportunity to learn the critical role of good lab skills for obtaining reliable data. Students have the opportunity individually, in small groups, and in the full lab section to discuss results and critique the work of others. BIOL 1961 provides students with a firm foundation on which to later launch their team-based inquiry into authentic scientific research in BIOL 3004.

BIOL 2003/2003H: Foundations of Biology for Biological Sciences Majors, Part II

BIOL 2003/2003H is the concept lab for the second semester of the Foundations sequence. The course is similar in structure to BIOL 1951 and covers the topics of cell biology and ecology.

BIOL 3004: Foundations of Biology for Biological Sciences Majors, Part II Laboratory

In BIOL 3004 student teams (established in BIOL 1961) design and perform novel research projects. This course is structured as a working research lab, where instructors serve as advisors to help student teams plan and execute their proposed research. Required activities of the course include reading of primary literature relevant to the specific project undertaken, maintenance of a detailed lab notebook, and active participation in planning and discussion of the team's work. Each laboratory section is devoted to one of the following general research areas: Pseudomonas adaptive radiation, zebrafish environmental toxicology, or microbiome/bioinformatics research. All projects examine the relationship between biology and other sciences, and stress application of quantitative skills, the scientific method, and modern biological tools to answer meaningful questions. Skills developed include designing and execution of experiments, appropriate use of the primary literature, written documentation of methods, analysis and presentation of results, and peer review.

Students can consider different registration options for Foundations of Biology:

  • Option 1
    • Semester 1: Biol 1951+1961
    • Semester 2: Biol 2003+3004
  • Option 2
    • Semester 1: Biol 1951
    • Semester 2: Biol 1961+Biol 2003
    • Semester 3: Biol 3004

Biol 1951+1961 enrollment for non-CBS students

Beginning Spring 2020, CBS will no longer review applications for Foundations of Biology access.

If you have been admitted to CBS and are having issues with registering for Foundations courses please reach out to your CBS academic advisor.

For Fall 2024, non-CBS students will be able to register or join the waitlist for BIOL 1951 and BIOL 1961 after August 23, 2024. 

For Spring 2025, check back on October 29 for when non-CBS students will be able to register or join the waitlist for BIOL 1951 and BIOL 1961.

Students are encouraged to consider alternative class options in the event that Foundations of Biology fills before non-CBS students are able to register.


It is recommended that students have completed or be in progress of completing Chem lecture and/or lab (1061, 1065, 1071H, 1075H, or 1081) before registering for 2003 and/or 3004. Students can contact the Biology Teaching and Learning Department at with questions.

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