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Modern Facilities

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Stanley Hall was renovated in 2013 at a cost of $17.6 million, making the science facilities at Earlham College more collaborative, efficient and visible. The projects modernized and reconfigured labs for optimal collaboration between chemistry, biology and biochemistry, better reflecting the way science is conducted today and giving students more opportunities to participate in research across the disciplines.

Since opening in 2015, the adjoining 42,000-square-foot Center for Science and Technology (CST) is home to the mathematics, physics and computer science departments, and the Science and Technology Learning Commons — a shared space for all the sciences.

The Program

The Earlham Biology Department's unique strength is its balanced curriculum with unusual depth in outdoor biology and ecology on the one hand, and modern laboratory experiences in cellular and molecular biology on the other. Students learn the principles of a variety of sub-disciplines of biology, and they acquire skills in scientific problem solving by means of laboratory, field and literature research. The rich curriculum allows students to develop a strong general program and to concentrate in the areas of cellular/molecular/physiological or organismal/ecological/evolutionary biology.

A hallmark of biology at Earlham is the close working relationships students develop with professors in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. Recent cooperative student-faculty research efforts have investigated a wide variety of topics including population dynamics of turtles and endangered iguanas, spider ecology in the Dominica rainforest, microbial prospecting in geothermal features, refining the annotations of the malaria genome, the ecology of invasive weeds in deciduous forests, the composition of pre-settlement forests, and Manakin lekking behavior in Amazonia.

During their education, majors are encouraged to study abroad on one of Earlham's off-campus programs or a program affiliated with the Great Lakes Colleges Association/Associated Colleges of the Midwest science programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee or Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. The Biology Department faculty have been very active in leading both semester-long off-campus programs (Tanzania, England, Oak Ridge, New Zealand) and shorter expeditions during May Term and on Ford/Knight projects (Amazon, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Galapagos Islands, Nebraska Sandhills, U.S. Virgin Islands, Yellowstone National Park).

Our department emphasizes "hands-on" science. Our facilities richly support this emphasis and include a state-of-the-art molecular genetics laboratory with an automated DNA analyzer, an ecology research lab, a scanning electron microscope, fluorescent microscopes, open access to the campus computer network, nationally recognized library facilities and access to online resources, greenhouse and animal care areas, an excellent regional herbarium, 600 acres of natural areas on the back campus, and 200 acres of nearby College-owned forests and old-fields. Many students take on active roles in the department through their work with faculty and staff in the stockroom, office and greenhouse, and through their participation as teaching and research assistants. Students working in Earlham's Joseph Moore Museum of Natural History develop skills in preparing specimens, caring for scientific collections and exhibits, and providing educational programs to the wider regional community.

The Earlham Biology Department ranks among the nation's leading undergraduate programs for preparing students for further study and high level careers in biology. According to HEDS data, Earlham is ranked 10th (in the 99th percentile) among 1533 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. in the percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D.s in the biological sciences. Of those receiving Ph.D.s in the life sciences in general, Earlham ranks 14th (both also in the 99th percentile). Our graduates have received prestigious national scholarships for post-graduate study, including Fulbright, Goldwater, National Science Foundation and Watson fellowships/scholarships. They earn their graduate degrees at such institutions as Berkeley, Chicago, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Purdue, Stanford and Yale; and at the universities of Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

Read more about Earlham's Ph.D. Production.

Earlham has an equally distinguished record of graduating students who go on to become doctors and veterinarians. We have a 90 percent acceptance rate among our students who apply to medical school. Our recent graduates have attended Duke, Harvard, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Ohio University, Stanford, University of Michigan and Yale. An increasing number of our graduates are pursuing professions in Public Health. Earlham's Health Services Advisory Committee works closely with pre-med and pre-vet students to ensure that they follow the appropriate curriculum and assists them through the application process.

Read more about Health Careers Advising at Earlham.

The postgraduate research of Earlham graduates is diverse and spans such topics as three dimensional protein imaging and organelle biogenesis, ethnobotany and evolution in South Pacific island plants, cellular repair of DNA damage resulting from chemotherapy, rivers as landscape constraints in avian conservation, conservation genetics of endangered Honduran iguanas, HIV and nutrition of women in Zimbabwe, computational modeling of coral reef ecosystem dynamics, play and antagonism behaviors of orphaned chimpanzees in Zambia, and the ecology of marine crab larvae settlement in southeastern Alaska.

Earlham's Biology majors pursue a wide variety of careers. The top five career areas for our majors are in the fields of research, conservation and the environment, health, education and business. Graduates work in such settings as the National Institutes of Health, the Nature Conservancy, the Indiana University Medical Center, the Catalina Island Marine Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Brazilian rain forest and the U.S. Peace Corps. The Department assists our students as they prepare for productive lives after Earlham.

First-Year Students

Students interested in majoring in Biology should speak with a Biology faculty member early in their undergraduate career. Faculty will help lay out a four-year plan that includes required courses, elective courses, opportunities for off-campus study, and possible internships. Early consultation is important to sequencing of several courses so that off-campus study remains an option. In general, students should take BIOL 111 and CHEM 111 in their first semester, CHEM 221 and BIOL 112 in their second semester, and BIOL 341 in the fall of their sophomore year. A summer research experience is highly recommended, and faculty work with students to identify appropriate opportunities.

General Education Requirements

The Department offers two courses that fulfill the Scientific Inquiry Requirement of the General Education Requirements, BIOL 111 and 112; and one course that meets the Quantitative Reasoning component of the Analytical Reasoning Requirement, BIOL 111. These courses give students tools for lifelong learning and for informed decision-making on important biologically-related issues such as the environment, medicine and genetics. The Department also offers Earlham Seminars.

The Major

All of the following courses are required:

  • BIOL 111 Ecological Biology
  • BIOL 112 Cells, Genes and Inheritance
  • BIOL 226 Biological Diversity
  • BIOL 341 Cell Physiology
  • BIOL 480 Senior Seminar
  • BIOL 488 Senior Capstone Experience
  • CHEM 111 Principles of Chemistry
  • CHEM 221 Organic Chemistry I

One of the following courses:

  • CHEM 321 Organic Chemistry II
  • CHEM 331 Equilibrium and Analysis
  • GEOL 201 Earth and the Environment
  • MATH 120 Elementary Statistics
  • MATH 180 Calculus A
  • MATH 280 Calculus B
  • PHYS 120 General Physics I
  • PHYS 125 Analytical Physics I
  • PSYC 342 Experimental Psychology

Majors should complete at least 16 additional credits in upper-level Biology courses, of which at least 13 must be from courses numbered from 342 to 471.

The Minor

Two courses from the following list:

  • BIOL 111 Ecological Biology
  • BIOL 112 Cells, Genes and Inheritance
  • BIOL 226 Biological Diversity

Minors should also complete either Option A or Option B

Option A

A total of at least 20 credits in Biology, of which 17 credits must be in courses numbered below 472, plus

  • CHEM 111 Principles of Chemistry


  • CHEM 221 Organic Chemistry I

Option B

At least 23 credits, of which no more than 11 credits may be from the introductory courses (BIOL 111, 112, 226). The remaining hours must be from upper-level offerings, but no more than three of these credits may be from courses numbered above 471. Option B is for the student not taking ancillary Chemistry courses.

Note: Only one BIOL 480 seminar may count toward the Minor.

* Key

Courses that fulfill
General Education Requirements:

  • (A-AP) = Arts - Applied
  • (A-TH) = Arts - Theoretical/Historical
  • (A-AR) = Analytical - Abstract Reasoning
  • (A-QR) = Analytical - Quantitative
  • (D-D) = Diversity - Domestic
  • (D-I) = Diversity - International
  • (D-L) = Diversity - Language
  • (ES) = Earlham Seminar
  • (IE) = Immersive Experience
  • (RCH) = Research
  • (SI) = Scientific Inquiry
  • (W) = Wellness
  • (WI) = Writing Intensive
  • (AY) = Offered in Alternative Year

An introduction to the study of the interrelationships among organisms and their physical and biotic environments. Topics include natural selection and adaptation, population growth and regulation, competition, predation, mutualism, productivity, energy flow and nutrient cycling. Emphasizes doing hands-on scientific research and problem solving using the primary ecological literature. Lab. (A-QR, SI)

An overview of cell structure and function and the principles of inheritance, including such topics as transmission genetics, DNA structure, central dogma of molecular biology, regulation of gene expression, meiosis and mitosis, protein function, cell cycle and recombinant DNA techniques. Lab emphasizes inquiry-based experiments and contemporary techniques. (SI)

*BIOL 150 EARLHAM SEMINAR (4 credits)
Offered for first-year students. Topics vary. (ES)

BIOL 200 EPIDEMIOLOGY (3 credits)
A study of patterns and determinants surrounding infectious and chronic disease in human populations. This course will introduce the principles, concepts and methodsof population-based epidemiology, and will cover topics including the dynamic behavior of disease, measures of disease frequency and effect, uses of rates and proportions and other statistics to describe the health of populations, epidemiologic study designs, and bias in investigating the extent of disease problems and the associations between risk factors and disease outcomes.

A survey of plants, animals, fungi, protists and bacteria emphasizing basic principles in organismal biology. Topics include origin of life, evolution, structure and function, homeostatic mechanisms, reproduction and life history phenomena, and systematics. Lab. (SI)

BIOL 229 BASIC STUDIES (1-3 credits)
A literature investigation of a topic selected by the student in consultation with a faculty adviser.

BIOL 240 SEMINAR (1-3 credits)
Sophomore level. Topics selected by the instructor.

For declared and prospective Neuroscience majors (sophomore and above). Discussion of recent neuroscience articles in popular and scientific journals. Prerequisites: At least one of the following — PSYC 250, BIOL 341, BIOL/PSYC 353, or permission of the instructor.

This course will serve as an introduction to the science of human nutrition and the relationship of food and nutrients to health and disease. Topics covered will include the macro- and micronutrients, digestion of food, and current recommendations for nutrient intake. Also discussed will be current scientific literature on the role of nutrition in selected disease processes and the use of foods as medicines. Prerequisites: CHEM 111. Also listed as CHEM 251.

Topical course with the opportunity for participation in a research project.

BIOL 341 CELL PHYSIOLOGY (4 credits)
An examination of basic principles of cell physiology. Topics include thermodynamics, enzyme mechanisms, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, coupling of ATP hydrolysis to cellular reactions, regulation of protein function, membrane structure, cell signaling, and neural and muscular activity. Lab emphasizes inquiry-based experiments and contemporary techniques. Prerequisites: BIOL 112 and CHEM 111 or consent of the instructor.

BIOL 342 SEMINAR (1-3 credits)
Junior level. Topics selected by the instructor.

BIOL 343 IMMUNOLOGY (3 credits)
An introduction to the biology of the immune system, including cells and tissues, activation, differentiation and specificity, effector mechanisms, immunity to microbes, autoimmunity, immunodeficiency and AIDS, evolution, hypersensitivity and transplantation. A non-lab course. Prerequisites: BIOL 112, BIOL 341 and CHEM 221, or consent of the instructor.

An in-depth study of the structures and functions of human nervous, sensory, muscular and endocrine systems. Each system is covered at the molecular, cellular, organ, and organism levels. Labs include extensive hands-on studies of human anatomy. Prerequisite: BIOL 341. Offered Spring Semester.

An in-depth study of the structures and functions of human cardiovascular, respiratory, renal and digestive systems. Each system is covered at the molecular, cellular, organ and organism levels. Labs include physiology experiments, research projects and hands-on studies of human anatomy. Prerequisite: BIOL 341. Offered Fall Semester.

BIOL 348 ORNITHOLOGY (4 credits)
A look into the behavior, ecology and evolution of birds. Provides students with theoretical and hands-on experiences with birds. The first half of the semester integrates lectures and laboratory exercises to expose you to topics such as the origin and evolution of birds, avian anatomy, avian behavior, reproductive strategies, among other things.  Second half of semester constitutes an intensive field experience, with early morning field trips, stressing bird identification and natural history of birds. Prerequisite: BIOL 111.

BIOL 350 FIELD BOTANY (4 credits)
Systematics, morphology, physiology, geography, cytogenetics and life history phenomena are used to clarify the ecology and evolution of plants. In addition, concepts of plant community and conservation ecology are investigated using a comparative biome approach. Emphasizes field-based ecological research projects and plant identification via keying in the lab and by sight in the field. Lab. Prerequisites: BIOL 111 and 226. Offered twice every three years.

This course explores the complex and intriguing relationship between our genes and our physical characteristics. This course will cover subjects including mutation, genetic disease, cancer and genetic counseling. Students also will focus on epigenetics, personal genomics and human genome manipulation. Current ethical challenges facing the field, particularly in medicine, will be discussed. Prerequisite: BIOL 112.

Life histories, anatomy, physiology and evolutionary trends among representatives of the invertebrate phyla. Lab. Prerequisites: BIOL 111 and 226.

Advanced seminar examines the physiological mechanisms underlying a variety of psychological processes. Requires extensive reading of primary source materials. All students prepare a major seminar presentation and paper. Also listed as PSYC 353. (AY)

BIO 357 ANIMAL BEHAVIOR (4 credits)
An introduction to the evolutionary and ecological processes that promote the diversity of animal behaviors found in nature. Topics include development of behavior, biological rhythms, the evolution of foraging behavior, reproductive behavior, mating systems, parental care and social behavior. Students design and conduct their own behavioral study. Lab. Prerequisites: BIOL 111. (RCH)

A discussion-based course investigating the impacts humans have on biodiversity and measures used to mitigate them.  Conservation biology is an interdisciplinary, value-laden, crisis-driven discipline. Topics include conservation law, ethics, and ecological economics; species extinction, rarity and their causes; population viability analyses and practices; designing, establishing, managing and restoring protected areas; and sustainable human development. A non-lab course. Prerequisites: BIOL 111. (AY)

The classification, life histories, behavior and ecology of insects. Includes field research projects. Lab. Prerequisites: BIOL 111 and 226.

Bioinformatics is the application of statistics and computer science to the field of biology. This course is a wide ranging introduction to the field, the tools, and the techniques used to work with large datasets, and will principally concentrate on the analysis and visualization of novel genomic and metagenomic data. The course is centered around doing research and using tools, with much of the course time dedicated to active learning. Prerequisite: BIOL 111, 112, CS 128 or CS 290. Also listed as CS 383. (AY)

Developmental biology is the scientific study of how a single cell transforms into a multicellular organism. This course aims to provide students with an introduction to this complex biological process by discussing the interactions between cellular signaling pathways, gene regulation and the environment that give rise to complex multicellular organisms. Through the lens of developmental biology, students will also develop their ability to interpret primary literature (both classic and current) and effectively and ethically present scientific data. Laboratory sessions will focus on experimental manipulations of the nematode model organism Caenorhabditis elegans and emphasize effective science communication with images and student-led research projects. Prerequisites: BIOL 112, CHEM 111 and BIOL 341.

This course is designed to provide a basic and integrative knowledge of GIS theory and its applications in Ecology, Environmental and Health Sciences using the existing state-of-the-art software: ArcGIS. The course will cover basic GIS concepts such as mapping, projections, geo-referencing and spatial analysis. It will be taught using a combination of lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on, interactive tutorials in the classroom. Students will constantly apply spatial analytical tools to address questions, solve problems and complete independent projects in and outside the classroom. Prerequisites: junior or senior standing. (AY)

Consideration of the factors affecting the evolution of populations (mutation, genetic drift, gene flow, selection, breeding systems, population structure), the mechanisms of speciation, phylogenetic inference and macroevolution. A non-lab course. Prerequisites: BIOL 111, 112 and 226. Offered twice every three years.

Examines interactions among populations and their environments from empirical and theoretical perspectives. Topics include life history evolution, optimality, population growth, competition, predation, community structure and theories of species coexistence. Emphasizes ecological inquiry via experimental design and statistical analysis of data from student-initiated field research projects. Lab. Prerequisites: BIOL 111. Offered twice every three years. (RCH)

A study of processes, structures and functions that are unique to plant cells. Possible topics: specialized organelles and cell types, carbohydrate metabolism, signal transduction, genomics, and fertilization and early development. Emphasizes photosynthesis and other responses to light. Reading and presenting research literature. Note: Biology-Chemistry Interdepartmental majors who take BIOL 226 from course options in List A need to take a course other than Plant Cell Biology to fulfill requirements for the Major.

BIOL 461 MICROBIOLOGY (4 credits)
A study of bacteria and virusesfocusing on microbial physiology, growth, replication, genetics, ecology, pathogenesis, evolution, systematics, impact on global health, and historical and modern techniques. Research emphasizes acquiring skills in the craft of microbiology including laboratory safety, sterile technique, microbial culturing and staining, isolation and identification of unknown bacteria, antimicrobial activity and biochemical analyses. Lab. Prerequisite: BIOL 341.

BIOL 462 PARASITOLOGY (4 credits)
A study of the general biology of the parasitic protozoans, helminths and arthropods of humans and domestic animals. Detailed discussions of parasite pathology, physiology, life cycles, diagnosis, therapeutics, control strategies and total impact on global health (humans and domestic animals). Lab includes visualization of representative taxa, morphology, culturing methods, applied diagnostics, parasite genomics and modern molecular techniques. Prerequisite: BIOL 341.

Detailed examinations of protein structure and activity. Selected "hot" topics are discussed, including mechanisms of stem cell biology, protein sorting within cells, regulation of cell cycle, apoptosis, and cellular mechanisms of memory and learning. Emphasizes reading, presenting and discussing original research papers. Topics change regularly. May be taken more than once with faculty approval. Prerequisite: BIOL 341. (AY)

Project-based lab course that examines various aspects of cell structure and function using contemporary techniques. Recent projects include isolation and purification of bacterially expressed proteins, analysis of protease inhibitors, measurements of phagocytosis by insect hemocytes. Technique include bacterial culture, centrifugation, column chromatography, SDS-PAGE, Western transfer and analysis, fluorescence microscopy and cell culture. May be taken concurrently with BIOL 464. Lab. Prerequisite: BIOL 341.

Covers DNA and RNA structure and functions, mutation, genetic code, genome organization, replication, gene regulation and recombinant DNA technology, bioinformatics, epigenetics and RNA interference. A non-lab course. Prerequisites: BIOL 341 and CHEM 221. Offered once every three semesters.

Neuropharmacology is the study of the mechanisms by which drugs affect nerve cells, circuits of nerve cells, the brain and behavior. The course introduces the basic concepts of drugs, drug receptors, intracellular signaling mechanisms, synaptic transmissions, pharmacokinetics, learning, mood and behavior. Building on that foundation, the course covers specific drugs such as antidepressants, painkillers, antipsychotics and sedatives. Drugs being tested for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's will be discussed. Prerequisites: BIOL 341 and either BIOL 345, PSYC 353 or consent of the instructor.

An ecological approach to topics in marine systems: habitats and the associated organisms, symbiotic relationships and human impact. Combination of lecture and student presentations. Prerequisites: BIOL 111 and 226. (AY)

BIOL 480 SENIOR SEMINAR (2 credits)
Required for the Major. Special topic seminars for seniors. Specific topics selected by students in consultation with a faculty mentor and with Departmental approval. Largely student organized and executed. Competence in oral communication and use of contemporary literature stressed.

BIOL 482 SPECIAL TOPICS (1-3 credits)
Topics chosen at the discretion of faculty.


Collaborative research with faculty under the auspices of the Ford/Knight Program.

BIOL 485 INDEPENDENT STUDY (1-3 credits)
A laboratory, field and/or literature investigation of a specific topic conceived and planned by the student in consultation with a faculty adviser. For the advanced student.

BIOL 486 STUDENT RESEARCH (1-4 credits)
A laboratory investigation of a specific topic conceived and planned by the student in collaboration with a faculty supervisor. Culminates in a comprehensive report prepared in the style of a thesis or a scientific paper. (IE)

Majors must successfully complete comprehensive examinations in the Spring Semester of the Senior year.

May Term Courses

BIOL 472 MARINE BIOLOGY (3 credits)
A three-week field exploration of tropical marine biology with emphasis on coral reef, intertidal, mangrove and seagrass communities. Emphasizes group projects and the identification of fish, invertebrates and algae. May Term. Prerequisite: BIOL 471. (AY)

Focuses on ecological topics that are especially exemplified by the tropics: species diversity, habitat diversity and conservation. Includes guest lectures, field projects, scientific journaling and an expedition to a tropical site in Peru or Ecuador (Amazonia or the Galapagos Islands) for an exciting immersion into the natural history of the tropics. May Term. Prerequisites: BIOL 111 and 226.

A study of the natural history and conservation biology of birds with concentration on the techniques of field study including bird banding, census and survey techniques, and behavioral observation. Also involves advanced work in field identification by sight and sound. May Term. Prerequisite: BIOL 348.

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