MicroWorlds: Intro to Micro and Molecular Biology

Where the telescope ends the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

In Microworlds, the common themes of size and scale take students on an adventure that crosses life sciences, chemistry, physics and biomedical engineering. The course covers microorganisms, cell biology and an introduction to molecular biology.

The course devotes term one to microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses.  Guiding questions include:

  • What are microorganisms? How can we identify and differentiate them?

  • How does current understanding affect our ability to manage "good" and "bad" microorganisms in our bodies and the environment?

  • What is the human microbiome?

Students also get to investigate questions they repeatedly ask, such as:

  • Why did one student come into class with a cough and now many students are coughing three days later?

  • Will I really get sick if I do not wear my hat?

  • I am going to see my relative over the Thanksgiving, can I catch cancer from him?

Student explorations range from examining extremophiles and what we can learn from them to basic questions about the immune system, epidemiology and public health. All subject matter is taught with great sensitivity to age and development.

During the winter term students actively examine the cellular biology of plants and animals. Students investigate cells, organelles and cellular activity through the lens of structure and function. They actively investigate topics in the lab such as:

  • single and multi-cellular organisms

  • the differences between plant and animal cells

  • cell reproduction and cell mutation

Given that each day it is so likely to see or read a media/press piece about molecular biology, the spring term is devoted to helping students to develop a basic foundation in genome science. Ti2 students move beyond the concept of cells as the basic building blocks of human life. How does understanding at the molecular level unlock a whole new way to understand the world and ourselves? These questions guide this course segment.

Students gain a solid introduction to molecular biology, which includes:

  • investigating DNA, RNA and the basics of genetic material

  • applying understanding of DNA to genetic diversity

  • gaining hands-on exposure to bioinformatics and today's genome research

  • Performing gel electrophoresis and possibly PCR depending upon student progress

Engineering design challenges are primarily biomedical in nature.

Site visits and visiting specialists! The Ti2 team engages individuals from area research institutions and industries to inspire our students with current research and career possibilities in science and engineering.

Note: When the course is offered for winter/spring term only, the course is not a compressed or accelerated version of the academic year-long offering. The course covers microorganisms and cell biology. If student interests and understanding permit, the course provides a partial introduction to molecular biology.