Caltech's First-Year Biology Requirement
Biology is one of the most exciting and impactful disciplines of the 21st century and at Caltech. From investigating how complex organisms develop from a single cell, to understanding the neurobiology of emotion, to recognizing the critical role microbes have played and continue to play in shaping and sustaining our planet, to coming up with new ways to control viruses, biology offers something fascinating for everyone regardless of primary major. Indeed, some of the greatest opportunities for discovery and applications lie at the interface of biology with other disciplines. Accordingly, All Caltech students are required to take 9 units of first-year biology, which can be satisfied by taking any course numbered Bi 1. Several different course options are available, with each Bi 1 course representing a different approach to providing an introductory understanding of the biological sciences. Bi 1 courses are offered in different terms (for 2022-23, they are offered in winter and spring terms; for 2023-24 we anticipate offering them in all three terms). All Bi 1 courses may be taken pass/fail if they are taken in the freshman year, independent of the term in which the course is taken. For students who are interested in the fundamentals of eukaryotic molecular and cellular biology, the freshman biology requirement can also be satisfied by completing both Bi 8 and Bi 9.
This page provides information on the different options available to students and gives guidance on how to choose the Bi 1 course that is best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Biology can be studied from many different points of view and it is not possible to cover everything in a single 10 week course. You should look through the course description and try to find a course that has topics or a perspective that particularly interests you. Any of the courses listed here will provide you an outstanding introduction to the biological sciences and provide an opportunity to learn what makes the biological sciences so interesting and special.
Yes! While sometimes biology is taught well in high school, unfortunately it often emphasizes memorization and/or teaches to the AP test, which is not inspiring. Our Bi1 offerings are distinct in both mode of instruction and content. You have the opportunity to take something completely different from what you took in high school by selecting the Bi1 option that most excites you. Biology is a huge subject, and even if you had a good course in high school, there is undoubtedly much you have yet to learn that will amaze you.
It is also possible to satisfy the Caltech first-year Biology requirement by taking Bi 8 and Bi 9. Bi 8 and 9 are required for Biology majors, and focus on eukaryotic molecular (Bi 8) and cellular (Bi 9) biology.
We offer a variety of first-year "informational courses" that meet for 1 hour each week and provide an introduction to different topics that Caltech faculty are pursuing in their research. These courses can give an overview of some of the areas of specialization and research that biologists and bioengineers study, and the lectures are designed to tell you more about what it is like to major in bioengineering or biology.
- BE 1. Frontiers in Bioengineering. 1 unit: first term. A weekly seminar series by Caltech faculty providing an introduction to research directions in the field of bioengineering and an overview of the courses offered in the Bioengineering option. Required for BE undergraduates. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Staff.
- Bi 2. Current Research in Biology. 3 units (1-0-2): first term. Intended for students considering the biology option; open to freshmen. Current research in biology will be discussed, on the basis of reading assigned in advance of the discussions, with members of the divisional faculty. Graded pass/fail. Instructor: Elowitz.
You can also talk to the undergraduate option representatives to learn more about our programs:
Yes! Caltech's offers undergraduate minors in Biology or Neurobiology. Students who minor in one of these options will typically a few required courses that go beyond the first-year biology requirement and then select from a variety of upper-level courses.
- Biology undergraduate minor requirements
- Neurobiology undergraduate minor requirements (coming soon!)
Caltech offers many ways for undergraduates to get involved in research in biology and biological engineering. Many Caltech undergraduates take advantage of Caltech's SURF program, in which undergraduates work with a faculty member (and often graduate students and postdocs) to write a proposal for a research program that is carried out during the summer. Faculty in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering host many SURF students in their labs over the summer and there are ample opportunities available. For more information on pursuing a SURF project, see Caltech's SURF homepage.
Research during the academic year is also possible and it is common for juniors and seniors in Bioengineering and Biology to carry out research as part of their studies, including the option to pursue a senior thesis. Courses that can be used to get academic credit for carrying out research during the academic year include:
- Bi 21. Undergraduate Research with Presentation. Minimum 12 units per term (0-11-1); first, second, third terms. Special problems involving laboratory research in biology; to be arranged with instructors before registration. Must give a public presentation reporting results of work. May be counted as advanced lab credit. May be repeated for credit.
- Bi 22. Undergraduate Research. Units to be arranged; first, second, third terms. Special problems involving laboratory research in biology; to be arranged with instructors before registration. Graded pass/fail.
- Bi 90 abc. Undergraduate Thesis. 12 or more units per term; first, second, third terms. Prerequisites: 18 units of Bi 22 (or equivalent research experience) in the research area proposed for the thesis, and instructor's permission. Intended to extend opportunities for research provided by Bi 22 into a coherent individual research project, carried out under the supervision of a member of the biology faculty. Normally involves three or more consecutive terms of work in the junior and senior years. The student will formulate a research problem based in part on work already carried out, evaluate previously published work in the field, and present new results in a thesis format. First two terms graded pass/fail; final term graded by letter on the basis of the completed thesis.
- BE 98. Undergraduate Research in Bioengineering. Variable units, as arranged with the advising faculty member; first, second, third terms. Undergraduate research with a written report at the end of each term; supervised by a Caltech faculty member, or co-advised by a Caltech faculty member and an external researcher. Graded pass/fail.
- BE 99 abc. Senior Thesis in Bioengineering. 6 or more units per term with a three-term total of at least 27 units; first, second, and third terms. Prerequisites: Junior or senior standing and instructor's permission. Research in Bioengineering, supervised by a Caltech faculty member, culminating in a thesis. The topic is determined by the research adviser and the student and is subject to approval by the Bioengineering faculty. The first and second terms are taken pass/fail and require a written report at the end of each term. The third term is taken on grades and requires completion of a thesis and final presentation. The last two terms must be completed in the final year of study. Total units arranged with the advising faculty member.
There are a lot! At Caltech, you can find a list of the areas were faculty are actively pursuing research on the BBE Research webpage. At a high level, the major areas represented at Caltech include: