Learn biology without experimentations

Learn biology without experimentations

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I'm a high school student in a third-world country (Algeria).

My problem is with the way we are been taught biology. It's all about memorizing facts and procedures from a textbook without any application whatsoever due to the unavailability of laboratory equipments(there are some but they are either expired or useless).

My question: does this way of learning have any benefits at all? Are we even learning?

I know what a lipid is because I've read its definition, but, is this enough? Is it enough to only read a paragraph that describes lipids and then see a model of it in order to know what a lipid really is? Would it be useless if I go to a laboratory, extract some cholesterol, study its characteristics and see it with my own eyes to have a rough idea of what it is?

I've been seriously thinking about dropping out of school because I think the world doesn't need another indoctrinated kid who knows a bunch of facts and want to earn some money with that knowledge.

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You can expect to complete nearly all of your classes online. However, the organic chemistry lab course requires in-person attendance. All in-person work may be completed during a one-week session at the Arizona State University Tempe campus or at an approved accredited institution near your location.

Yes, the biological science major can prepare you for a graduate degree. If you’re seeking to continue on to a master’s degree or PhD, this biology program can prepare you for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT®). The curriculum in this program aligns with recommendations from the American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Committee.

Not taking the MCAT? After completing this program, you’ll have foundational knowledge that will help you to pursue non-medical graduate degrees in many fields of biological science.

Biological science students have access to academic and pre-health advisors. These advisors provide guidance unique to you and your career path. They can also help you find research experiences, clinical internships and community service opportunities. For more information on ASU’s pre-health education programs, please visit the ASU pre-health website.

Experimentation as a scientific research method

Experimentation is one scientific research method, perhaps the most recognizable, in a spectrum of methods that also includes description, comparison, and modeling (see our Description, Comparison, and Modeling modules). While all of these methods share in common a scientific approach, experimentation is unique in that it involves the conscious manipulation of certain aspects of a real system and the observation of the effects of that manipulation. You could solve a cell phone reception problem by walking around a neighborhood until you see a cell phone tower, observing other cell phone users to see where those people who get the best reception are standing, or looking on the web for a map of cell phone signal coverage. All of these methods could also provide answers, but by moving around and testing reception yourself, you are experimenting.

Variables: Independent and dependent

In the experimental method, a condition or a parameter, generally referred to as a variable, is consciously manipulated (often referred to as a treatment) and the outcome or effect of that manipulation is observed on other variables. Variables are given different names depending on whether they are the ones manipulated or the ones observed:

  • Independent variable refers to a condition within an experiment that is manipulated by the scientist.
  • Dependent variable refers to an event or outcome of an experiment that might be affected by the manipulation of the independent variable.

Scientific experimentation helps to determine the nature of the relationship between independent and dependent variables. While it is often difficult, or sometimes impossible, to manipulate a single variable in an experiment, scientists often work to minimize the number of variables being manipulated. For example, as we move from one location to another to get better cell reception, we likely change the orientation of our body, perhaps from south-facing to east-facing, or we hold the cell phone at a different angle. Which variable affected reception: location, orientation, or angle of the phone? It is critical that scientists understand which aspects of their experiment they are manipulating so that they can accurately determine the impacts of that manipulation. In order to constrain the possible outcomes of an experimental procedure, most scientific experiments use a system of controls.

Controls: Negative, positive, and placebos

In a controlled study, a scientist essentially runs two (or more) parallel and simultaneous experiments: a treatment group, in which the effect of an experimental manipulation is observed on a dependent variable, and a control group, which uses all of the same conditions as the first with the exception of the actual treatment. Controls can fall into one of two groups: negative controls and positive controls.

In a negative control, the control group is exposed to all of the experimental conditions except for the actual treatment. The need to match all experimental conditions exactly is so great that, for example, in a trial for a new drug, the negative control group will be given a pill or liquid that looks exactly like the drug, except that it will not contain the drug itself, a control often referred to as a placebo. Negative controls allow scientists to measure the natural variability of the dependent variable(s), provide a means of measuring error in the experiment, and also provide a baseline to measure against the experimental treatment.

Some experimental designs also make use of positive controls. A positive control is run as a parallel experiment and generally involves the use of an alternative treatment that the researcher knows will have an effect on the dependent variable. For example, when testing the effectiveness of a new drug for pain relief, a scientist might administer treatment placebo to one group of patients as a negative control, and a known treatment like aspirin to a separate group of individuals as a positive control since the pain-relieving aspects of aspirin are well documented. In both cases, the controls allow scientists to quantify background variability and reject alternative hypotheses that might otherwise explain the effect of the treatment on the dependent variable.

In an experiment, scientists try to manipulate as ________ variables as possible at a time.


The table of contents of a document from the Nuremberg military tribunals prosecution includes titles of the sections that document medical experiments revolving around: food, seawater, epidemic jaundice, sulfanilamide, blood coagulation and phlegmon. [4] According to the indictments at the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, [5] [6] these experiments included the following:

Experiments on twins

Experiments on twin children in concentration camps were created to show the superiority of heredity over environment, and to find ways to increase German reproduction rates. The central leader of the experiments was Josef Mengele, who from 1943 to 1944 performed experiments on nearly 1,500 sets of imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. About 200 people survived these studies. [7] The twins were arranged by age and sex and kept in barracks between experiments, which ranged from amputations, infecting them with various diseases and injecting dyes into their eyes to change their color. He also attempted to create conjoined twins by sewing twins together, causing gangrene and eventually, death. [8] [9] Often, one twin would be forced to undergo experimentation, while the other was kept as a control. If the experimentation reached the point of death, the second twin would be brought in to be killed at the same time. Doctors would then look at the effects of experimentation and compare both bodies. [10]

Bone, muscle, and nerve transplantation experiments

From about September 1942 to about December 1943 experiments were conducted at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, for the benefit of the German Armed Forces, to study bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration, and bone transplantation from one person to another. [11] In these experiments, subjects had their bones, muscles and nerves removed without anesthesia. As a result of these operations, many victims suffered intense agony, mutilation, and permanent disability. [11]

On 12 August 1946 a survivor named Jadwiga Kamińska [12] gave a deposition about her time at Ravensbrück concentration camp and describes how she was operated on twice. Both operations involved one of her legs and although she never describes having any knowledge as to what exactly the procedure was, she explains that both times she was in extreme pain and developed a fever post surgery, but was given little to no aftercare. Kamińska describes being told that she had been operated on simply because she was a "young girl and a Polish patriot". She describes how her leg oozed pus for months after the operations. [13]

Prisoners were also experimented on by having their bone marrow injected with bacteria to study the effectiveness of new drugs being developed for use in the battle fields. Those who survived remained permanently disfigured. [14]

Head injury experiments

In mid-1942 in Baranowicze, occupied Poland, experiments were conducted in a small building behind the private home occupied by a known Nazi SD Security Service officer, in which "a young boy of eleven or twelve [was] strapped to a chair so he could not move. Above him was a mechanized hammer that every few seconds came down upon his head." The boy was driven insane from the torture. [15]

Freezing experiments

In 1941, the Luftwaffe conducted experiments with the intent of discovering means to prevent and treat hypothermia. There were 360 to 400 experiments and 280 to 300 victims indicating some victims suffered more than one experiment. [16]

"Exitus" (death) table compiled by Sigmund Rascher [17]
Attempt no. Water temperature Body temperature when removed from the water Body temperature at death Time in water Time of death
5 5.2 °C (41.4 °F) 27.7 °C (81.9 °F) 27.7 °C (81.9 °F) 66' 66'
13 6 °C (43 °F) 29.2 °C (84.6 °F) 29.2 °C (84.6 °F) 80' 87'
14 4 °C (39 °F) 27.8 °C (82.0 °F) 27.5 °C (81.5 °F) 95'
16 4 °C (39 °F) 28.7 °C (83.7 °F) 26 °C (79 °F) 60' 74'
23 4.5 °C (40.1 °F) 27.8 °C (82.0 °F) 25.7 °C (78.3 °F) 57' 65'
25 4.6 °C (40.3 °F) 27.8 °C (82.0 °F) 26.6 °C (79.9 °F) 51' 65'
4.2 °C (39.6 °F) 26.7 °C (80.1 °F) 25.9 °C (78.6 °F) 53' 53'

Another study placed prisoners naked in the open air for several hours with temperatures as low as −6 °C (21 °F). Besides studying the physical effects of cold exposure, the experimenters also assessed different methods of rewarming survivors. [18] "One assistant later testified that some victims were thrown into boiling water for rewarming." [16]

Beginning in August 1942, at the Dachau camp, prisoners were forced to sit in tanks of freezing water for up to three hours. After subjects were frozen, they then underwent different methods for rewarming. Many subjects died in this process. [19]

The freezing/hypothermia experiments were conducted for the Nazi high command to simulate the conditions the armies suffered on the Eastern Front, as the German forces were ill-prepared for the cold weather they encountered. Many experiments were conducted on captured Russian troops the Nazis wondered whether their genetics gave them superior resistance to cold. The principal locales were Dachau and Auschwitz. Sigmund Rascher, an SS doctor based at Dachau, reported directly to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and publicised the results of his freezing experiments at the 1942 medical conference entitled "Medical Problems Arising from Sea and Winter". [20] In a letter from 10 September 1942, Rascher describes an experiment on intense cooling performed in Dachau where people were dressed in fighter pilot uniforms and submerged in freezing water. Rascher had some of the victims completely underwater and others only submerged up to the head. [21] Approximately 100 people are reported to have died as a result of these experiments. [22]

Malaria experiments

From about February 1942 to about April 1945, experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp in order to investigate immunization for treatment of malaria. Healthy inmates were infected by mosquitoes or by injections of extracts of the mucous glands of female mosquitoes. After contracting the disease, the subjects were treated with various drugs to test their relative efficacy. [23] Over 1,200 people were used in these experiments and more than half died as a result. [24] Other test subjects were left with permanent disabilities. [25]

Immunization experiments

At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, scientists tested immunization compounds and serums for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. [26] [27]

Epidemic jaundice

From June 1943 till January 1945 at the concentration camps, Sachsenhausen and Natzweiler, experimentation with epidemic jaundice was conducted. The test subjects were injected with the disease in order to discover new inoculations for the condition. These tests were conducted for the benefit of the German Armed Forces. Most died in the experiments, whilst others survived, experiencing great pain and suffering. [28]

Mustard gas experiments

At various times between September 1939 and April 1945, many experiments were conducted at Sachsenhausen, Natzweiler, and other camps to investigate the most effective treatment of wounds caused by mustard gas. Test subjects were deliberately exposed to mustard gas and other vesicants (e.g. Lewisite) which inflicted severe chemical burns. The victims' wounds were then tested to find the most effective treatment for the mustard gas burns. [29]

Sulfonamide experiments

From about July 1942 to about September 1943, experiments to investigate the effectiveness of sulfonamide, a synthetic antimicrobial agent, were conducted at Ravensbrück. [31] Wounds inflicted on the subjects were infected with bacteria such as Streptococcus, Clostridium perfringens (a major causative agent in gas gangrene) and Clostridium tetani, the causative agent in tetanus. [32] Circulation of blood was interrupted by tying off blood vessels at both ends of the wound to create a condition similar to that of a battlefield wound. Researchers also aggravated the subjects' infection by forcing wood shavings and ground glass into their wounds. The infection was treated with sulfonamide and other drugs to determine their effectiveness.

Sea water experiments

From about July 1944 to about September 1944, experiments were conducted at the Dachau concentration camp to study various methods of making sea water drinkable. These victims were subject to deprivation of all food and only given the filtered sea water. [33] At one point, a group of roughly 90 Roma were deprived of food and given nothing but sea water to drink by Hans Eppinger, leaving them gravely injured. [20] They were so dehydrated that others observed them licking freshly mopped floors in an attempt to get drinkable water. [34]

A Holocaust survivor named Joseph Tschofenig wrote a statement on these seawater experiments at Dachau. Tschofenig explained how while working at the medical experimentation stations he gained insight into some of the experiments that were performed on prisoners, namely those in which they were forced to drink salt water. Tschofenig also described how victims of the experiments had trouble eating and would desperately seek out any source of water including old floor rags. Tschofenig was responsible for using the X-ray machine in the infirmary and describes how even though he had insight into what was going on he was powerless to stop it. He gives the example of a patient in the infirmary who was sent to the gas chambers by Sigmund Rascher simply because he witnessed one of the low-pressure experiments. [35]

Sterilization and fertility experiments

The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Defective Progeny was passed on 14 July 1933, which legalized the involuntary sterilization of persons with diseases claimed to be hereditary: weak-mindedness, schizophrenia, alcohol abuse, insanity, blindness, deafness, and physical deformities. The law was used to encourage growth of the Aryan race through the sterilization of persons who fell under the quota of being genetically defective. [36] 1% of citizens between the age of 17 to 24 had been sterilized within two years of the law passing.

Within four years, 300,000 patients had been sterilized. [37] From about March 1941 to about January 1945, sterilization experiments were conducted at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and other places by Carl Clauberg. [29] The purpose of these experiments was to develop a method of sterilization which would be suitable for sterilizing millions of people with a minimum of time and effort. The targets for sterilization included Jewish and Roma populations. [14] These experiments were conducted by means of X-ray, surgery and various drugs. Thousands of victims were sterilized. Aside from its experimentation, the Nazi government sterilized around 400,000 people as part of its compulsory sterilization program. [38]

Carl Clauberg was the leading research developer in the search for cost effective and efficient means of mass sterilization. He was particularly interested in experimenting on women from age twenty to forty who had already given birth. Prior to any experiments, Clauberg x-rayed women to make sure that there was no obstruction to their ovaries. Next, over the course of three to five sessions, he injected the women's cervixes with the goal of blocking their fallopian tubes. The women who stood against him and his experiments or were deemed as unfit test subjects were sent to be killed in the gas chambers. [39]

Intravenous injections of solutions speculated to contain iodine and silver nitrate were successful, but had unwanted side effects such as vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, and cervical cancer. [40] Therefore, radiation treatment became the favored choice of sterilization. Specific amounts of exposure to radiation destroyed a person's ability to produce ova or sperm, sometimes administered through deception. Many suffered severe radiation burns. [41]

The Nazis also implemented x-ray radiation treatment in their search for mass sterilization. They gave the women abdomen x-rays, men received them on their genitalia, for abnormal periods of time in attempt to invoke infertility. After the experiment was complete, they surgically removed their reproductive organs, often without anesthesia, for further lab analysis. [39]

M.D. William E. Seidelman, a professor from the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Dr. Howard Israel of Columbia University, published a report on an investigation on the Medical experimentation performed in Austria under the Nazi Regime. In that report he mentions a Doctor Hermann Stieve, who used the war to experiment on live humans. Stieve specifically focused on the reproductive system of women. He would tell women their date of death in advance, and he would evaluate how their psychological distress would affect their menstruation cycles. After they were murdered, he would dissect and examine their reproductive organs. Some of the women were raped after they were told the date when they would be killed, so that Stieve could study the path of sperm through their reproductive system. [42]

Experiments with poison

Somewhere between December 1943 and October 1944, experiments were conducted at Buchenwald to investigate the effect of various poisons. The poisons were secretly administered to experimental subjects in their food. The victims died as a result of the poison or were killed immediately in order to permit autopsies. In September 1944, experimental subjects were shot with poisonous bullets, suffered torture, and often died. [29]

Some male Jewish prisoners had poisonous substances scrubbed or injected into their skin, causing boils filled with black fluid to form. These experiments were heavily documented as well as photographed by the Nazis. [39]

Incendiary bomb experiments

From around November 1943 to around January 1944, experiments were conducted at Buchenwald to test the effect of various pharmaceutical preparations on phosphorus burns. These burns were inflicted on prisoners using phosphorus material extracted from incendiary bombs. [29]

High altitude experiments

In early 1942, prisoners at Dachau concentration camp were used by Sigmund Rascher in experiments to aid German pilots who had to eject at high altitudes. A low-pressure chamber containing these prisoners was used to simulate conditions at altitudes of up to 68,000 feet (21,000 m). It was rumored that Rascher performed vivisections on the brains of victims who survived the initial experiment. [43] Of the 200 subjects, 80 died outright, and the others were murdered. [20] In a letter from 5 April 1942 between Rascher and Heinrich Himmler, Rascher explains the results of a low-pressure experiment that was performed on people at Dachau Concentration camp in which the victim was suffocated while Rascher and another unnamed doctor took note of his reactions. The person was described as 37 years old and in good health before being murdered. Rascher described the victim's actions as he began to lose oxygen and timed the changes in behavior. The 37-year-old began to wiggle his head at four minutes, a minute later Rascher observed that he was suffering from cramps before falling unconscious. He describes how the victim then lay unconscious, breathing only three times per minute, until he stopped breathing 30 minutes after being deprived of oxygen. The victim then turned blue and began foaming at the mouth. An autopsy followed an hour later. [44]

In a letter from Himmler to Rascher on 13 April 1942, Himmler ordered Rascher to continue the high altitude experiments and to continue experimenting on prisoners condemned to death and to "determine whether these men could be recalled to life". If a victim could be successfully resuscitated, Himmler ordered that he be pardoned to "concentration camp for life". [45]

Blood coagulation experiments

Sigmund Rascher experimented with the effects of Polygal, a substance made from beet and apple pectin, which aided blood clotting. He predicted that the preventive use of Polygal tablets would reduce bleeding from gunshot wounds sustained during combat or surgery. Subjects were given a Polygal tablet, shot through the neck or chest, or had their limbs amputated without anesthesia. Rascher published an article on his experience of using Polygal, without detailing the nature of the human trials and set up a company staffed by prisoners to manufacture the substance. [46]

Bruno Weber was the head of the Hygienic Institution at Block 10 in Auschwitz and injected his subjects with blood types that were differed from their own. This caused the blood cells to congeal, and the blood was studied. When the Nazis removed blood from someone, they often entered a major artery, causing the subject to die of major blood loss. [39]

Electroshock experiments

Some female prisoners of Block 10 were also subject to electroshock therapy. These women were often sick and underwent this experimentation before being sent to the gas chambers and killed. [39]

Other documented transcriptions from Heinrich Himmler include phrases such as "These researches… can be performed by us with particular efficiency because I personally assumed the responsibility for supplying asocial individuals and criminals who deserve only to die from concentration camps for these experiments." [47] Many of the subjects died as a result of the experiments conducted by the Nazis, while many others were murdered after the tests were completed to study the effects post mortem. [48] Those who survived were often left mutilated, suffering permanent disability, weakened bodies, and mental distress. [20] [49] On 19 August 1947, the doctors captured by Allied forces were put on trial in USA vs. Karl Brandt et al., commonly known as the Doctors' Trial. At the trial, several of the doctors argued in their defense that there was no international law regarding medical experimentation. [ citation needed ] Some doctors also claimed that they had been doing the world a favor. An SS doctor was quoted saying that "Jews were the festering appendix in the body of Europe." He then went on to argue he was doing the world a favor by eliminating them. [10]

The issue of informed consent had previously been controversial in German medicine in 1900, when Albert Neisser infected patients (mainly prostitutes) with syphilis without their consent. Despite Neisser's support from most of the academic community, public opinion, led by psychiatrist Albert Moll, was against Neisser. While Neisser went on to be fined by the Royal Disciplinary Court, Moll developed "a legally based, positivistic contract theory of the patient-doctor relationship" that was not adopted into German law. [50] Eventually, the minister for religious, educational, and medical affairs issued a directive stating that medical interventions other than for diagnosis, healing, and immunization were excluded under all circumstances if "the human subject was a minor or not competent for other reasons", or if the subject had not given his or her "unambiguous consent" after a "proper explanation of the possible negative consequences" of the intervention, though this was not legally binding. [50]

In response, Drs. Leo Alexander and Andrew Conway Ivy, the American Medical Association representative at the Doctors' Trial, drafted a ten-point memorandum entitled Permissible Medical Experiment that went on to be known as the Nuremberg Code. [51] The code calls for such standards as voluntary consent of patients, avoidance of unnecessary pain and suffering, and that there must be a belief that the experimentation will not end in death or disability. [52] The Code was not cited in any of the findings against the defendants and never made it into either German or American medical law. [53] This code comes from the Nuremberg Trials where the most heinous of Nazi leaders were put on trial for their war crimes. [54] To this day, the Nuremberg Code remains a major stepping stone for medical experimentation. [55]

Modern ethical issues

Andrew Conway Ivy stated the Nazi experiments were of no medical value. [16] Data obtained from the experiments, however, has been used and considered for use in multiple fields, often causing controversy. Some object to the data's use purely on ethical grounds, disagreeing with the methods used to obtain it, while others have rejected the research only on scientific grounds, criticizing methodological inconsistencies. [16] Those in favor of using the data argue that if it has practical value to save lives, it would be equally unethical not to use it. [34] Arnold S. Relman, editor of The New England Journal of Medicine from 1977 till 1991, refused to allow the journal to publish any article that cited the Nazi experiments. [16]

Dr John Hayward, justifying citing the Dachau freezing experiments in his research. [34]

The results of the Dachau freezing experiments have been used in some late 20th century research into the treatment of hypothermia at least 45 publications had referenced the experiments as of 1984, though the majority of publications in the field did not cite the research. [16] Those who have argued in favor of using the research include Robert Pozos from the University of Minnesota and John Hayward from the University of Victoria. [34] In a 1990 review of the Dachau experiments, Robert Berger concludes that the study has "all the ingredients of a scientific fraud" and that the data "cannot advance science or save human lives." [16]

In 1989, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considered using data from Nazi research into the effects of phosgene gas, believing the data could help US soldiers stationed in the Persian Gulf at the time. They eventually decided against using it, on the grounds it would lead to criticism and similar data could be obtained from later studies on animals. Writing for Jewish Law, Baruch Cohen concluded that the EPA's "knee-jerk reaction" to reject the data's use was "typical, but unprofessional", arguing that it could have saved lives. [34]

Controversy has also risen from the use of results of biological warfare testing done by the Imperial Japanese Army's Unit 731. [56] The results from Unit 731 were kept classified by the United States until the majority of doctors involved were given pardons. [57]

St. Patrick's Day Fizzing Pots

A Lesson in: Chemical Reactions

Kids will love the fizzy science behind what happens when an acid and a base are combined! The food coloring gives the experiment a rainbow blast, and you can order mini pots here. Find out what else you'll need, and what questions you can ask your kids by heading over to Little Bins for Little Hands.

Messiness Factor: 3 sponges

Why biology students should learn how to program

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I was talking with a scientist last week who is in charge of a massive dataset. He told me he had heard complaints from many of his biologist friends that today's students are trained to be computer scientists, not biologists. Why, he asked, would we want to do that when the amount of data we handle is so trivial?

Now, you have to understand, to this person a dataset of 1000 whole genomes is trivial. He said, don't these students understand that in a few years all the software they wrote to handle these data will be obsolete? They certainly aren't solving interesting problems in computer science, and in a short time, they won't be able to solve interesting problems in biology.

Iɽ agree that biological data-sets can't compete with particle physicists in terms of sheer scale, although the speed with which they are accumulating is alarming. Where biological data-sets really become intimidating is in their diversity, in the complexity of the underlying processes, and in the levels of noise and bias. I suspect a lot of people used to dealing with extremely large data-sets would still balk at the complexity of computational biology once they dug a little deeper, particularly in a few years' time.

Anyway, this conversation leads John, via an interesting digression into Wolfram Alpha (read the post for details) to pose the following question:

Tomorrow's high-throughput plain-English bioinformatics tool will do the work of ten thousand 2009 graduate students. If a freely-available (or heck, even a paid) service can do the bioinformatics, what should today's graduate students be learning?

I am intrigued by the potential of natural language search algorithms, and certainly I anticipate a future in which the combination of well-curated, mutually intelligible biological databases and powerful search tools makes it much easier for non-informaticians to generate and explore hypotheses, in the same way that sites like NCBI and Ensembl have made it simple for bench scientists to access and manipulate sequence data. There's no question that biologists with little or no informatics background will be able to query increasingly complex biological data-sets in increasingly complex ways over the next few years.

That said, such tools and databases, however powerful, will always lag substantially behind the science. For young biologists who want to work right at the cutting edge - which will require dealing directly with rapidly changing technologies, generating biological data at an increasingly dizzying pace and in constantly evolving formats - solid informatic skills, including at least basic programming and sound statistical knowledge, *will *make you a far more productive scientist.

If you intend to be at the head of your field, you'll often be in a place where the right tools for the job simply don't exist yet. You need to be able to develop such tools yourself, or at least speak the right language to communicate your needs to someone who can and speaking that language means having a good working knowledge of computation.

Of course programming languages will change and the scripts you write as a grad student will be forgotten within a year or two - that's the nature of science (how many molecular biologists still run Southern blots?). The important thing is learning how to think about large-scale biological data: how to access, filter and manipulate it. Having basic programming expertise will make you more effective as a scientist right now, and it will also prepare you for a career in an increasingly data-driven field.

Of course, informatic skills alone will get you nowhere unless your ambition is to be the default IT support team for your lab partners. Regardless of whether you are asking questions using John's hypothetical universal query engine or an algorithm of your own invention, you need to be asking the *right *questions, which means developing an understanding of biology that is both deep and broad. If the quoted concern in John's post is valid - if young biologists are actually sacrificing scientific understanding for computational skills - then that is certainly something that needs to be corrected.

Still, let's be sure not to swing too far in the opposite direction. Unless and until Wolfram Alpha triggers the singularity Iɽ argue that biology grad students will be extremely well-served by developing serious programming and statistical experience, at least if they want to be marching at the head of their field. Speaking as a biologist who entered informatics far too late (as a postdoc), I can think of few other skill areas where investing effort and time early in your career can provide such a dramatic return in terms of scientific productivity and career prospects.

Related: xkcd effectively says the same thing in cartoon style - and read the comments of that post for some useful tips.

Our research addresses a wide range of biological questions, across and between the sub-disciplines of biology: from single molecules to systems, and from steady state equilibria to dynamic remodeling over milliseconds to millions of generations. We invite graduate students enrolled in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences to explore the diverse research areas our faculty members study.

The Department of Biology draws its strength from an exceptionally interactive and collaborative faculty, possessing a wide range of interests at all levels of biological organization, and utilizing many different biological systems and model organisms. Our faculty have received national and international recognition for contributions in genetics, neuroscience, development, population biology, plant biology, and other areas of specialization. Work being done in the department has broad implications for the treatment of disease and genetic anomalies, the preservation of endangered species, the development of food crops, and many other global problems centered in the life sciences.


The biology department has 49 full-time faculty members. Our large and thriving community also includes approximately 60 current pre-doctoral students, approximately 55 postdoctoral and research scientists, and nearly 700 majors (more than any other program in Arts & Sciences). Nearly all of our faculty have peer-reviewed grant support—now totaling around $12 million each year—and many hold leadership positions in the scientific community.


Washington University in St. Louis is fully committed to being a national leader in sustainability, a core priority that runs through all aspects of our community, our operations, and our work as a leading teaching and research institution. Explore how we are addressing climate change and environmental degradation.

How to Teach Biology

This article was co-authored by Soren Rosier, PhD. Soren Rosier is a PhD candidate at Stanford's Graduate School of Education. He studies how children teach each other and how to train effective peer teachers. Before beginning his PhD, he was a middle school teacher in Oakland, California, and a researcher at SRI International. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 2010.

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Biology is one of the central branches of scientific knowledge, and is relevant to topics including medicine, genetics, zoology, ecology, and public policy. As such, it has the potential to interest almost any student. To be successful at teaching biology, however, you will have to think carefully about how to share this exciting field in ways that are relatable and enjoyable. Along the way, you should make it your goal for students to achieve at least a fundamental knowledge of biological concepts.

What Is Biohacking?

According to a recent study published in The Journal of Trends in Biotechnology , biohacking is "a do-it-yourself citizen science merging body modification with technology." In other words, average people "hack" their own bodies with a mixture of scientific concepts, tools, and technology.

Biohacking is a pretty broad term as its definition varies from biohacker to biohacker . Many biohackers use it to optimize their overall well-being — think improved physical ability, cognitive function , and mental health. For example, you may use binaural beats for better sleep quality .

Others are more extreme. They conduct self-experimentations , like implanting a chip or injecting stem cells into their own bodies .


Once you've developed a hypothesis, you must design and conduct an experiment that will test it. You should develop a procedure that states very clearly how you plan to conduct your experiment. It is important that you include and identify a controlled variable or dependent variable in your procedure. Controls allow us to test a single variable in an experiment because they are unchanged. We can then make observations and comparisons between our controls and our independent variables (things that change in the experiment) to develop an accurate conclusion.​