Welcome to Discover Biology Lab. Each week, I will have a reading assignment for you. Because there is no textbook requirement for this course, the reading assignments will typically be in the form of blog posts on my Life and Biology website. There will be quizzes on the material discussed in the reading assignment, so it is in your best interest to read them!
Biology is a world-wide phenomenon. We are set to discover many different topics of biology in an introductory manner, so covering the whole world is a bit out of the question. Instead, we will use the concept of ecosystems as our means of discovering biology.
Now, ecosystem is a bit of a “fuzzy” word because an ecosystem is defined by the person that wants to study it. Ecosystems are essentially just systems, so we need to think in terms of systems. What is a system? A system is a defined area that is either “closed” or “open”. In a closed system, nothing gets in or out of the defined space. By “nothing”, I mean matter and energy are confined within the system. When we learn about calorimetry later in the semester, we will think through the advantages of using a closed system.
Ecosystems tend to be open. That is, energy comes into the ecosystem, moves through the system, and then leaves the system. Same goes with matter. The ecosystem we will use in the lab this semester is a “BIOMES chamber”. This chamber is an enclosure that I artificially designed based on the cost-cutting measure of creating two such enclosures from a single sheet of “blue board” (a plywood-sized sheet of Styrofoam that is two inches thick). The size of the chamber also works well for the 1-foot square light source in the chamber. Moreover, these chambers can fit beneath the work benches in the teaching lab.
Let’s get back to the idea of the BIOMES chamber. First off, BIOMES is an acronym for “Biology of Indoor Organismal and Microbial Ecosystem Sustainability.” Let’s break that down further. B is for biology, the study of life. We can have arguments later to discuss what life is. Next up in the acronym is I for indoor. Why indoor? Well, because we live in Butte and the outdoors is a rather cold place most of the year. Furthermore, we will house our BIOMES chambers within the teaching lab. OM means organismal and microbial. By evaluating plant, animals, and single-celled microbes in our BIOMES chambers, we will span a wide range of life forms all in a little box. Ecosystems have been discussed above, but don’t worry, we’ll talk more about those soon! Finally, the S stands for sustainability. Ecosystems devoid of human interference are often sustainable and we will look at concepts behind those ecosystems to create our human-controlled ecosystems.
What are some of the benefits to using BIOMES chambers this semester? Previously, experiments in the Discover Biology Lab were haphazard and did not overlap from one week to the next. There was an effort to match the current topic in class with the experimental topic for that week. However, we will approach the lab portion of this class as a semester-long project. We will learn about the scientific method and experimental design. With these tools, we will then create a series of experiments that will address the overarching goal of finding the most efficient method for growing an indoor crop. Most projects are constrained by time commitment and costs, so we will factor in these concerns as we proceed.
See you in class!