Biology 103 Home Page

  Biology 103, Fall, 2009, Bryn Mawr College
 
COMPLEXITY

BIOLOGY: An Exploration and Conversation

Making Sense of Life


UNPREDICTABILITY

 


DIVERSITY

HUMANITY


INQUIRY

Welcome to the home page for a one-semester introductory biology course at Bryn Mawr College, fall semester, 2009.

Students (and visitors) should be aware that this is a "non-traditional" science course in several respects (see Science As Story Telling in Action for further background).

The course is organized in relation to the following general presumptions (see syllabus for specifics):

  • Biology, like all science, is an ongoing process of trying to make sense of the world and one's relation to it by a recursive and unending process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Biology is of interest and is accessible to everyone, and is an essential tool in the repertoire of anyone who is  trying to make sense of who they are and how they relate to the world around them.
  • Biology, like all science, is best assimilated by a process in which students themselves work through in their own minds and in relation to their own experiences and understandings relevant observations and the summaries of those observations suggested by others. Education, like science, should be an ongoing process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Biology, like all science, is a social process, one in which the observations and tentative summaries are shared among individuals, so that each can benefit from the ongoing inquiries of others.
  • For these reasons, students (like faculty) will be expected to actively engage in all aspects of the course, including making thoughts in progress available not only to other students in the course but to the world at large by way of an on-line forum and web papers.

Course Announcements/Evolution:

 Welcome to Biology 103. And to thinking about science, and about life, and to trying to make sense of their relation to one another, and to ... Browse around, be sure to read the course presumptions, and let's see what we can together do that's interesting, productive, and fun (those being the same thing?).

Start by introducing yourself in the on-line forum below (be sure to log in first if you're registered for the course), with some thoughts about what you'd like to better understand about life.  Include three questions that you hope to explore during the semester.  Visitors are welcome to add their own thoughts here and in other course forums without logging in. Such postings will be reviewed to avoid spam and so may be delayed in appearing. Comments on the general organization and conduct of the course as it proceeds are welcome in this forum at any time.

2 September

Apologies about log in confusion, associated stress. Thanks for patience/tolerance. Will try to be "less wrong" in future.  If you posted without logging in, please repost.

4 September

Add an introduction to yourself with questions in the forum area below if you haven't already done so.  Thoughts from the week should be posted this weekend in the weekly forum.  In addition to your own thoughts, leave a comment on someone else's.

9 September

Labs start today.  See lab rosters for assignment.  Be sure to log in before posting in forums. 

11 September

Starting next week, we'll be meeting in Room 126 (thanks Emdoscio). 

For lab next week, please read Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World and spend some time exploring the Encyclopedia of Life

If you're new to the course, don't know how to log in and post in forums, please see me after class.

14 September

For lab this week, please read Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World and spend some time exploring the Encyclopedia of Life.

First web paper due Monday, 28 September.  See web paper assignment

28 September

First web papers available.  Thanks all for additions to making sense of life.  Browse, add your own thoughts on one or more.

5 October

Enjoying your web papers, comments coming this week.  Have a look, leave comments yourselves.   Some recent articles of interest, and that might also stimulate a second web paper ...

The universe, in high definition

Can evolution run in reverse?  A study says its a one-way street

After asteroid strike, a fast recovery for some

Fossil skeleton from Africa predates Lucy

Understanding the anxious mind

First lab report due Monday, 26 October.  Second web paper due Monday, 9 November.

19 October

I've commented on/sent emails about first web papers.  If I've somehow missed you, let me know.  Please check your papers for layout/legibility/competeness and edit if necessary.  See end of Writing Assignments, particularly items 1 and 6.  If you prefer you can paste in Word documents using the special icon and then reformat them in the editing window. 

First lab report due next Monday (hard copy only). 

"Darwin’s Ancestors: Tracing the Origins of the “Origin of Species,” a celebration of  the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his landmark book On the Origin of Species will run through February 2010 in the Class of 1912 Rare Book Room in Canaday Library.  The exhibition will open on Thursday, Oct. 22, with a lecture by Swarthmore College Professor of Biology Scott Gilbert, titled “Disagreements Among Friends: How T. H. Morgan and E. B. Wilson’s Agreeing to Disagree Helped Establish Genetics and the Modern Synthesis.” Wilson was Bryn Mawr’s first biology professor and Morgan the second, and both played prominent roles in the international debates over evolution during the first half of the 20th century. The lecture will be at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 22,  in Carpenter Library 21.

21 October

Technical problems being worked on, so no lab this week.  Sorry.  Labs will resume next week.

2 November

Second web paper due next Monday. 

9 November

Second set of web papers available.  Remaining assignments (third web paper, second lab report, book commentary all due by 18 December.  

20 November

Apologies, I (too?) have been under the weather.  Will have comments on lab reports, second web paper to you by the end of Thanksgiving break. 

7 December

Second web paper comments posted and emailed. 

Final work (3rd web paper, 2nd lab paper, book commentary) due by December 18.  Web paper and book commentary should be posted on line and submitted as hard copies; lab paper should be submitted as hard copy only.  Hard copies can be put in the box on the door to my office (Room 111).

Please be thoughtful/frank in completing course assessments, both the official college assessment and the one specific to Bio 103.

One more course evaluation form, please.  For the biology department at https://survey.brynmawr.edu/checkbox/Survey.aspx?surveyid=1837

By the end of the week, pay one more visit to the course forum, leave your thoughts about questions about life needing to be addressed in years to come. 

Touching on a few that seem already to have arisen ...

 

 

Comments

mcasias's picture

Intro

Hi, my name is Mariah and I am a senior history major at Haverford. I am taking this course because although while in high school bio was always one of my favorite classes, I am not much of a science person. I think that this class will cover topics I have always been interested in, but in a more approachable and meaningful way. Anyways, here are a few questions I've come up with: 1) How is stress, especially chronic, able to change the body and behavior? and are these changes permanent? 2)How does gene activation/expression work and how will knowing how to turn on certain genes help us? 3)This isn't really a single question, but I am also wondering how/if what we will be learning about bio can be applied directly to our lives and if increased scientific literacy will change class perceptions about science and its importance.

ktan's picture

intro & my questions

Hi hi, name's Kristel Tan (accent on the "tEl" =)) and I'm a Junior in BMC. If all goes accordingly, I'm going to be a Poli Sci major. I'm Chinese-Filipino, born and raised in the Philippines. 

I do tend to link everything I know/read about/find out about together, and I find it absolutely fascinating to be doing exactly this in class. Trying to come up with three separate questions to explore for the semester is almost impossible for me (because as I've mentioned, they do tend to bunch together in my mind), so I'm going to summarize all those questions into one word: culture. The whole idea of culture and how it links with biology captivates me. I've grown up my entire life in an international school, surrounded by people from all walks of life, many of whom don't have a permanent "home," other than their families and passports. What I want to explore particularly from the overarching question of biology and culture are: 1) language and how it is affected by one's biology (Janice and Maria already mentioned this)--think of the Khoisan languages, and also to take it further, language of non-Homo sapiens. 2) How other people from other cultures think very differently--nature vs. nurture? Are there some things wired specifically in the brains of a certain race of people? Or are we more or less the same at birth, and the conditioning comes from our upbringing? 3) Handwriting. This is a little off topic from culture (but I'm sure we can find some link to that), but the idea that personalities can be read in a person's handwriting has always intrigued me. Is handwriting really a reflection of character traits, or is it learned throughout one's lifetime? I know in local school in the Philippines, they condition you to write a certain way, so some graduates of a school all have the same handwriting.

I could go on and on, but I think I'll leave it to that because there are other very interesting questions that have been posted already. I look forward to a v. stimulating semester.

 

Cheers!

Paul Grobstein's picture

naming/writing/genes/culture

Maybe thinking about handwriting is a good starting point for your other questions as well?  Yep, people can be "taught" to write in particular ways so "learning" can certainly be an influence on it.  But if one has to "learn" a particular way, that suggests there is another way one might have written if one hadn't learned a particular way, so "character traits" and genes are probably involved as well?  Maybe that's true for language and culture too?  An interesting take on language/naming at  Reviving the lost art of naming the world

Karina G's picture

Introduction

Hi, my name is Karina Granadeño and I'm a senior in Bryn Mawr College. I come from Boston but was born and raised until the age of 14 in El Salvador.  I'm a Spanish major but always had an interest in environmental and biology issues. In the past I have taken Environmental Toxicology and Problem Solving in the Environmental Sciences. I expect that taking biology 103 would help me understand the fundamental ideas and concepts of science.
I have always been curious to know what is determined by genetics and what is not? For example (another person mention before) the intellectual capacity of an individual.
 

Paul Grobstein's picture

genes and ...

How about this as a starting point:

Genes, Brains, and Behavior: A Work in Progress

A little dated, but worth updating ...

drichard's picture

introduction

Hello, my name is David Richardson. I am a sophomore at Haverford. I spend most of my free time playing music and making art. These hobbies are what drew me to biology. I am very interested in the neuroscience of art and music and hope to further my knowledge on the topic throughout the course. Specifically, I'd like to become more familiar with synaesthesia and how it can better or limit an artist. I am taking a class on the Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, a famous synaesthetic. I'd like to better understand how his writing is affected by his condition. I would also like to brush up on my genetics. In the development of an artist, is nature or nurture to be blamed or credited for certain artistic flaws or triumphs? Is this even a reasonable question? I imagine they are equally to credit/blame. Lastly, I would like to explore the calming effects of music on the human brain. How can we feel so at home in a piece of music, something entirely intangible? I imagine it has something to do with memory and association. But what about pieces we've heard for the first time?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biology and music

c.k.koech's picture

Intro

Hi my name is Keshia Koech, I am a freshman at Bryn Mawr College and I am from Boston, MA. I havent decided on my major yet so I am very much undecided right now. From what I remember from high school I really liked Biology and loved learning about it. With that said I would much rather learn Biology in a more conversational setting. I enjoy learning in non-conventional ways and I think Biology is a subject that should be approached from many different angles to be able to truly achieve a more complete understanding of it.

3 Questions:

1) How do we think? ( weird question but I am very curious about how the brain works like why do we do the things we do is it really us or our brains..do we even have control over our thoughts)

2) What makes somebody smarter than somebody else? ( Is it natural like genetic or is it a cultural trait...is it even related to biology?)

3)What is music and arts effect on the brain? (As I write this I am listening to music and depending on the song I feel different emotions..why is that? and also what are feelings, why do we have them?)

Paul Grobstein's picture

thinking, brains, music

jmstuart's picture

Hi all, my name is Julia

Hi all, my name is Julia Stuart and I'm a freshman at Bryn Mawr. I'm from Michigan, and I took a couple biology classes in high school. I'm on the tennis team here, and my major is intentionally undecided right now, because I want to explore a lot of subjects. My first area of interest in this class is the ethicality of genetically modified foods and its possible implications. I learned a bit about it last year, but I'm excited to discuss it in class. Also, I want to know about the current research being done on telomeres for cancer prevention. Or, in general, how genetics could help cure or prevent diseases. Finally, I have some interest in epidemiology, so I'd like to learn more about disease transmission and how viruses and bacteria act within the body. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biology and ... tennis?

Good directions for future exploration.  Maybe add in the biology of tennis, as per Toss the Ball, Hit the Ball, Oops!

dchin's picture

Introduction

Hi! My name is Debbi and I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. The last time I took a biology class was in ninth grade so I'm excited to take it up again, especially since this course does not take the traditional approach to biology. I would like to better understand genetic engineering.

1) How exactly do scientists manipulate our genes? Has technology evolved far enough for us to apply these methods to human beings?

2) We already eat genetically engineered food. What, if any, could be some possible ramifications of this? Is organic food healthier?

3) Is genetic engineering in humans ethical? Theoretically, it could be used to treat diseases, but also to manipulate qualities such as appearance or behavior.

Paul Grobstein's picture

genetic engineering

Lots to explore, think about here.  Perhaps worth thinking about in the context that "genetic engineering" is actually not something new but instead quite old?  Selective breeding, as in the domestication of plants and animals, is something humans have been doing for thousands of years.  And our own mating choices equally represent a form of "genetic engineering." 

jingber's picture

Intro

Hi, I'm Jesse.  I am a sophomore at Haverford, and am going to be a Political Science major.  I loved biology in high school, especially evolution, which I tend to frame all explanations of human behavior in (even using Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" as a basis for part of my philosophy final last year.)  Some questions/topics I'm interested in are:

 

1.  The idea of nature as a pure or self-correcting force.  I have doubts to whether even a world without any humans continuously supports life.

 

2.  What are the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, and what is it that drives sleep cycles?  This is of personal interest to me, because I tend to find that no matter what I do during the day, I simply don't get tired before 3 or 4 AM, with the result that I've been sleeping a lot less than I'm theoretically supposed to have been since middle school.  At this point though, I feel fully refreshed after sleeping for 5 or 6 hours.

 

3.  What drives people to create art, and why do other people enjoy it?  Even beyond how the brain specifically reacts to art, why would we have evolved to create pleasure from an activity that would take time away from other more practical pursuits?

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology and art

sophie b.'s picture

introduction

 Hi my name is Sophie and I am a sophomore here at Bryn Mawr College. I really enjoyed taking biology in high school and I'm excited to delve more into how biology affects our lives more deeply in this course. I suppose the quesions I would like to answer are: 

1) How biology relates to my main field of study, political science. I'm sure that biology plays a huge role in how we form public policy especially with the current health care debate and swine flu insanity but I'd like to learn more about what specifically it affects in our government. 

2) I would like to understand better how the immune system functions. I was recently asked to describe the way the immune systems worked and was almost entirely stumped. I think it is kind of important to know how our bodies work, and I'd like to understand how we fight off disease, as well as how we become ill.

3) I think we've all heard that humans are 99.8% the same, or something along those lines anyway. I'd like to understand how we can be similar yet have such a wide variety of appearances and personality types- as well as predispositions to illness, etc. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology in various forms

Re 1) see Biology and political science

Re 2) see Clonal Selection (Kimball's on line Biology Pages provide a good "textbook" background for many areas of biology)

Re 3) see Science, bodies, brains

Yashaswini's picture

Heyy :)

Hey, I'm Yashaswini and I'm a freshman at BMC. I was always interested in studying bio in school, but 'cause of rigidity of course structures at my high school, coud not study it after tenth grade. :|

I'm really excited about Bio 103, however. I appreciate the fact that it isn't a typical 'sciency' class and that having creative thought and individual expression will be as much important as having a reasoning and curious intellect! I also like the fact that we will be encouraged to make observations of our own and delve deeper into them, rather than just study about other people's findings and observations. 

1. A few months back, I read a bizarre article about how the British royal family was using vintage wine (that they had SO much in abundance of!) as a biofuel for their Aston Martins. I'm not sure how reliable or feasible that would be, though! Not long ago, there was also another news article that spoke of the exponential rate of population growth in developing countries like India and China and how that was directly responsible for the dwindling of global food supplies and the acute shortage of food grains across the world. Another theory stated that the reason why the world *actually* faced a shortage of food crops was because most of the arible land was being used to grow crops that would better serve as bio-fuel, and not merely as a food crop. Crops that can be used as bio-fuel and crops that can be used to meet nutritional requirements are substitue goods, and increase in supply of one WILL decrease the supply of other (The potential econ major in me!). In the light of these.. amusing news stories, I'd like to explore the different points of view regarding the usage of bio fuel and it's implication on the developed and developing nations.

2. Caffeine interests me. A lot! Throughout high school, I'd always been told to take coffee during finals to increase alertness and mental awareness. Specially before math exams! But someone recently told me that too much caffeine can actually make one a scatterbrain! And I was talking to few of my friends about it, and I was surprised to know that many of them weren't aware of the fact that coffee isn't the ONLY source of caffeine! Even chocolates and fizzy drinks contain high levels of caffeine! Also, I read a random fact about Bryn Mawr while doing my college search last summer, that said the most frequently used drug on campus is a caffeine pill! Because Bryn Mawr women have excellent work ethics and always.. strive to complete all their work on time, they often take advantage of the "caffeine pills" to help them work late hours and finish their assignments! This is DEFINITELY something I'd love to learn more about!

3. Finally, I'd like to explore a bit more about genetically modified food and their intellectual property rights. I understand that most MNC's , if not all, that produce GM food are American and/or belong to the developed nations. Also, GM food like Golden Rice (a special variety of rice with extra added benefits of iron) appears to cater to people from poorer countries who can't afford to put together balanced meals for themselves everyday. This puts forward the question of economic terrorism, where developed nations exercise control over the economies of the developing nations (albiet in a more sophisticated manner) as developing nations are forced to utilize the technology and machinery needed to produce the GM food (which is all patented by the West, by the way) to feed their starving citizens. This furthur undermines their self-sufficiency and raises a moral debate, from the humanitarian point of view. I'd love to learn about other sides of this debate and know more, so I can form a well-informed opinion of my own!

Wow. That was long. :)

If any of you have anything to say about any of these topics, or have an opinion, or a disagreement, or whatever -- I'd love to hear it! :)

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

sundry observations

Good compilation of materials on genetic engineering at http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/genetic_engineering/index.html.

See here for caffeine content of various drinks (source of data described here).

The pros and cons of biofuels (one of many, similarities/differences?)

cejensen's picture

Introduction

I'm Claire Jensen, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I am particularly interested in the evolution of life and also genetics, and would therefore like to learn more on those subjects. Why do some animals evolve strangely, like platypi (I never did learn whether or not that's the correct plural form)? How do genetic defects occur (especially in humans)? What causes animals to go extinct? (For example, I read an article recently about certain amphibians and bats dropping in number recently). I'm really excited about this course, and exploring some of these questions further.

Paul Grobstein's picture

maybe all organisms evolve "strangely"?

Haven't read it but it but Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us About Development and Evolution by Mark Blumberg looks interesting/relevant. 

SYC's picture

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Hi,

My name is Sue Yee Chen, I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr.  The reason why I signed up for Bio 103 was because I have an interest in the way living things function and coexist and how human beings have developed and changed over time.

Three of the questions I would like to see answered this semester are:

1. Why do people born in different regions of the world look different?  How does genetics determine who is born with what features?

2. Is an individual's personality predetermined at birth or is it formed through interaction with others and major events in his/her lifetime?

3. Is it really ideal to expose babies to more diseases and germs to build immunity?

 

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Genes and human ancestry

Perhaps a good starting point (one of many): Genetic Anthropology

María Fernanda's picture

Intro

My name is María Fernanda Miranda, and I'm a senior at Bryn Mawr. Because I'm Spanish/Italian double major, I initially chose this class because it seemed like a good way to pull away from my usual classes. We'll see what happens.

I'd like to learn more about the ways in which Biology can be studied. I like Languages because I like literature but I also like the linguistics aspect that comes with them. Here are my questions:

1. In what ways can we study not just science, but more specifically Biology?

2. How does biology affect language? Also, how does language affect biology?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biolinguistics

Possible starting places:

paoli.roman's picture

Introduction and Three Questions

My name is Paoli Román and I am a sophomore in Bryn Mawr College. I live in South Boston, MA and was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I enjoy cooking, sleeping, watching T.V., and going to the beach. I have a younger brother who loves reading about history! I am a very curious person who enjoys "heated" discussions. This is one of the main reasons I have decided to take this course. Three questions I would like to explore in this class are (which I thought would be fun to discuss and learn more about):

1) Why and how does chocolate affect the human skin?

2) Why can certain animals only live in specific locations?

3)How come when a person cuts themselves, and a scab forms, the skin itches or becomes irritated?

Paul Grobstein's picture

itching for an answer ...

Tina Hu's picture

Introduction

Hi my name is Tina Hu. I am a senior cities major. This is my last year in Bryn Mawr so I would like to use this opportunity to explore academically and take classes that fascinates me. I Have not taken a biology class since 9th grade, however I consider many of my cities courses very relevant to biology as there is just as much an ecology in urban environment than in the wild.

Three questions that I would like to explore:

1.) Climate change. I learned recently that in an known number of decades, my hometown Taipei in Taiwan will be nothing more than a part of the Pacific Ocean.

2.) Someone else has mentioned this already, but I would like to say it again- the issue of living organically, mostly focusing on the validity of organic lifestyle and the benefits on health.

3.) I am slightly embarrassed to include this one, but I recently watched a BBC documentary on crop circles, in which the unofficial conclusion is that crop circles are irrefutable evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Paul Grobstein's picture

extraterrestrial life?

Maybe something closer to "irrefutable evidence" in the not too distant future?

JPierre's picture

Intro

I'm Jennifer Pierre, a sophomore and political science major at Bryn Mawr. As the semester continues, I have the goal of answering the following questions:

1. How does Bio relate to Political Science, as Professor Grobstein implied in class?

2. Can understanding biology improve how I take care of myself health-wise?

3. And how can biology relate to every day life. For instance, can I see and experience biology everywhere?

ED's picture

Introduction

Hello! My name is Emily (Emdoscio). I am a fresh(wo)man at Bryn Mawr. Like JJ, the last time I had biology was in 9th grade-- only I didn't have the greatest time. I liked what we were learning, but not how we were "learning" (speeding through) it. The same was true in a summer chemistry course. I really love to write (creatively), and my questions about life-- even the scientifically-based ones-- tend to evolve from a personal level. For example, the number one question I've had for years now is one that I first asked after my dad passed away: 1. Is there any way of knowing an atom's past/history? What has a particular molecule been used for? Can certain atoms evoke certain feelings (like very physical art)?

I also became slightly obsessed with "being organic" and having good nutrition after his heart-attack: 2. How do artificial flavors, trans fats, and preservatives affect human action/emotion? I've noticed mood swings in myself, but maybe I'm just a big pansy.

Related to that question: 3. Is it possible for an American to be "100% organic" in our heyday of vending machines? I've heard that corpses haven't been as easy to cremate in the last decade-- meaning people are more fire-proof (ew)-- because of eating more preservatives and because of wearing fire-proof clothing (sorry I can't site here; don't remember).

There you have it, more than you ever really wanted to know about me in my introduction. A tout à l'heure!

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

eating "organically"

There happens to be a whole course on this subject just starting.  See Food for Thought: The Omnivore's Dilemma.  Browse around their reading lists/forums? 

xhan's picture

Intro

Hi,
My name is Michelle Han. Im a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. For this course I would like to learn more about biology and how it can applied to every day life. Some of the things that I want to learn from biology include the following:

I would like to learn more about the process in which scientists/biologists derive their conclusions

I would also like to learn more about the different roles of cells and the implications of these roles on the rest of the body

Lastly, I would like to learn more about the human brain, and gain a better understanding of how the brain functions and the differences between the brain of one individual as opposed to that of another.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Science, bodies, brains

I wonder if there are interesting similarities between how "scientists/biologists derive their conclusions," the "different roles of cells" in the body, and differences between brains?  For more on the latter, see

Terrible2s's picture

Intro

Hi I'm Terrible2s. I'm using this name for other classes on Serendip and would like to remain anonymous (online at least). I am a current sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I have so many thoughts and questions about life, but mostly I am interested in human nature. I am currently taking classes which encompass the mental and emotional components of human nature and I would like to explore the biological side of human behavior. I would like to explore interdisciplinary work and find answers to such questions as follows:

1) How do physical body reactions trigger psychological phenomenons? Are there many connections between biological and psychological tendencies? Do psychological reactions trigger biological ones? Can this connection be explained? Are there medical advances due to research on this topic?

2) Can we predict any sort of future human evolution? Will the "poorly" designed features such as our eyes or useless (vestigal?) organs like the appendix eventually ever be fixed or gotten rid of out of the evolutionary process?

3) Are there any large technological advances in technology that will change the course of our evolution? Health? Lifespan?

Enjoy!

Paul Grobstein's picture

the physical versus the psychological?

Maybe after Bio 103, you'll want to do Bio 202?  In meanwhile, for more on behavior/psychology as "physical" see http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb

JyL's picture

Intro and 3 questions

Hello, my name is Janice Lee (JyL) and I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College. I've always been fascinated with the definition of the word "life". The dictionary defines it in a variety of ways: "the course of human events and activities"; "the course of existence of an individual"; "the organic phenomenon that distinguishes living organisms from nonliving ones". I know that I am not going to get one straightforward answer that explains what "life" is. Through this course, I hope that I will be able to gain even just a small understanding to what the concept of "life" is through a biological/scientific perspective.

Several questions/ topics I wish to explore:
1. I am planning on being a Linguistics/Language major. In my Introduction to Syntax class, the professor talked about the concept of Biolinguistics, which addresses the language faculty. The language faculty is our biological ability to use language. Human beings are the only creatures that use language, and linguists and others have concluded that we must therefore have some kind of specific biological endowment for language, one which is totally absent, or nearly so, from all other living species: our language faculty. So for this course I would like to try and gain a better understanding about not only the language faculty, but other biological "programs" that we seem to be endowed with that make us such a unique species.

2. With the "Swine Flu" scare, I decided to read up on it, because I realized that I do not actually know what it is. When I read that it is a virus that is usually found in pigs, and that it just mutated and became infectious to humans, I wanted to know about the mutation capabilites of such viruses.

3. Humans all have their own unique personalities and behaviors. Even if we might act similarly, it is not exactly the same, and everyone has their own way of interpreting things. Do different behaviors mean that we all have different brains?

Paul Grobstein's picture

variation in viruses and brains and ....

Re biolinguistics, see above.   I wonder what parallels there might be between the "mutation abilities" of viruses and human variation in personality/interpretation/brains?  See Evolution/Science: inverting the relationship between randomness and meaning

JJ's picture

intro

Hi, I'm JJ (Juliana Jacquemin). I've taken biology only in 9th grade, where it was in the more traditional format but I did enjoy it. I've always thought of science as a moving/evolving subject, as we continue to find or change ideas that are important to both humankind and the rest of our world. I would like to learn more about evolution in different forms, from cells to larger life forms. I hope to explore 1) how there came to be so much diversity amongst living things 2) how mutations develop in cells that lead to things such as cancers and diseases and 3) what "big ideas" humans should/could learn based on the continuing changes in scientific discovery about our biological world. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology "big ideas"

Maybe one is that diversity is ... not something to be explained but rather something that in turn explains everything else?  See above.  Looking forward to hearing what other useful "big ideas" you/others come up with during the semester.

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