Caltech has a strong tradition in biology dating back to the beginnings of the Institute and Thomas Hunt Morgan. See BBE History. Today, undergraduates interested in biology at Caltech have additional options to a broad biology major which include focused studies in bioengineering and computation and neural systems. As biology plays a larger role in the integrated sciences, the division also offers an undergraduate minor. In addition to the information below, please see the Course Matrix which further expands possible courses of study within biology.
The Biology major at Caltech builds a strong foundation of molecular genetics, cell biology, systems biology, and biochemistry, then uses this foundation to explain the complex processes conferring properties of living systems. The BI program at Caltech reveals how these mechanisms govern embryonic and stem cell development, how viruses replicate, how the immune response counters pathogens, the nature and interactions of nerve activity, principles of brain function, and behavior. In addition, applications of the methods, concepts, and approaches of modern mathematics, physics, chemistry, and information science are providing new approaches that further enrich understanding of these areas. This program equips experimental and computational biologists to find opportunities for challenging work in many areas of basic research as well as in medicine and in biotechnology.
The undergraduate curriculum at Caltech focuses on two key goals: 1) Engineering new biological systems and functions, and 2) Applying engineering principles to learn principles of biological design. The curriculum provides students with a firm grounding in engineering principles, biotechnology, and fundamentals from the biological sciences through coursework on physical cell biology, systems biology, biomolecular engineering, biodevice design, and synthetic biology. Bioengineering undergraduates are strongly encouraged to perform research in campus laboratories. Students graduate with a strong experimental and computational foundation for careers or further study in bioengineering, biotechnology, biomedicine, biological data analysis, and the expanding universe of biology-related disciplines and industries.
Computation and Neural Systems
The goal of the Computation and Neural Systems (CNS) program is to understand the brain on a computational basis and to draw inspiration from biology to design autonomous intelligent machines. The unifying theme of the program is the study of the relationship between the physical structure of a computational system (synthetic or natural hardware), the dynamics of its operation and its interaction with the environment, and the computations that it carries out. Areas of interest include coding and computation in networks of neurons, sensory systems (vision, audition, olfaction), learning and memory, control and motor behavior, and planning and decision making.
The biology minor is intended to supplement one of Caltech's undergraduate degrees. It is designed for students who wish to broaden their studies beyond their major to include biology, whether studying chemistry or computer science, geology or physics, or any other major.
Further information detailing Option descriptions and requirements, as well as typical course schedules, may be found in the Caltech Catalog, Section 3.