MBL Spring Quarter Biology

The University of Chicago is pleased to offer our second Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Spring Quarter in Biology in Spring 2022.  This program will run concurrently with the MBL Spring Quarter in Neuroscience.  

In the MBL Spring Quarter in Biology, students take a series of 3-week immersive courses in the Biological Sciences.  The hallmark of coursework at MBL is hands-on experiential learning.  In this tradition, all Spring quarter MBL courses will focus on designing and carrying out independent lab research.  In the first 3-week module, students will choose either a research-focused biology course Stem Cells and Regeneration (BIOS 27750) or an MBL version of Physics III (PHYS 12400).  In the second module, students will take either an MBL version of Biodiversity (BIOS 20198) or a hands-on course on Imaging for Biological Research (BIOS 27724).  The quarter culminates with all students taking Biological Oceanography (BIOS 27751), a unique course that will include the option of 10-day sea voyage for data collection.  

Students interested in the biology track but unwilling or unable to spend time at sea can opt to take Dynamic Camouflage (NSCI 21530), space permitting.  Please contact Elizabeth Baldo ( if you prefer this option.  These three courses comprise a full quarter 3-course schedule.  Students may also register for a fourth course, a Visual Language course (ARTV 10100), that can be used to fulfill the general education requirement in the Arts.  

All courses in this program are open to students from all majors with 2nd year standing or greater (or by consent).  Note that Physics I and II are required for those opting to take Physics III.  All BIOS courses can be counted towards the Biology major.  Alternatively, completion of any two of the BIOS courses can be used to fulfill the General Education requirement in Biological Sciences.  Despite the lack of biology course reprequisites, please be aware that the immersive nature of the program and the research-focused course content is only suitable for students with a strong interest in research in biological science.

The MBL Spring Quarter will run from March 21 to May 27, 2022.  Students will likely be required to arrive at MBL on March 20.  Please note the program continues through UChicago finals week, and students must stay for the entire time period to receive credit. Students will be able to return to Chicago in time for Class Day and Convocation. 

Cost and Financial Aid

Program Fee: $6,000

The program fee includes all housing, food and course supplies. Travel costs are not included. Need-based financial aid is available, and will be automatically applied to the program fee for students who are accepted into the program.

Application Process

Applications for Spring 2022 are open.  Rolling admissions.  Students will be admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Register Here for the biology program!

Students will be notified within 48 hours of submitting an application.


The MBL Spring Quarter will include three consecutive three-week immersive courses taught in-person at MBL.  The optional Arts course runs concurrently with the first two modules.


          Module 1

           Module 2

        Module 3


BIOS 27750  

Stem Cells & Regeneration 

BIOS 20198


BIOS 27751 /

ENSC 25000

Biological Oceanography

or or or

PHYS 12400

Physics III

BIOS 27724

Imaging for Biological Research

NSCI 21530

Dynamic Camouflage

and  and  

ARTV 10100 

On Images

ARTV 10100

On Images


*The arts course, On Images, is optional.  

*Biological Oceanography will count as an elective in the environmental sciences major.

Pre-requisites for the Spring Quarter at MBL are:

  • Physics 12200  *(if you are planning to take Physics 12400)
  • Second-year standing or greater (or by consent)

Course Descriptions

PHYS 12400  Optics, waves and modern physics at the MBL  

Patrick LaRiviere      Rudolf Oldenburg

This course, consisting of lecture and extensive inquiry based lab work, will cover the same essential material as PHYS 12300 and can be substituted for PHYS 12300 in all biological sciences programmatic requirements. However, it will also exploit opportunities and resources unique to the MBL. The course will also provide students the opportunity to understand the physical principles underlying some of the instruments they will use in other portions of the course, such as fluorescence and polarized-light microscopes and the acoustic doppler current profilers and chirp-based SONAR systems that will be used on the research vessel. The course will have a significant research and exploration component.

BIOS 27750  Stem Cells and Regeneration: From Aquatic Research Organisms to Mammals

Karen Echeverri

This course will focus on contemporary stem cell biology and regeneration with emphasis on molecular mechanisms and applications. The course will cover the history of stem cell discoveries through the latest advances, including genome-wide profiling, targeted gene editing, and other techniques used in stem cell and regeneration research. A portion of the course will consist of modules where specific stem cell types will be discussed together with relevant diseases they could impact (i.e. stem cells and neurodegeneration). A focus of the course will be around how discoveries in aquatic research organisms have driven the progress in regeneration biology.  In this classroom and lab based course, students will have the opportunity to work on an independent research project under the supervision of a Resident Faculty at MBL. The lab portion of the course will introduce and provide hands-on experience on experimental approaches and techniques used in cell biology, development, and regeneration research. There will be a focus on microscopy (brightfield, fluorescence, high-resolution microscopy) and use of open source software to analyze images. There will be an introduction into the use of stains, antibodies, and genetically-encoded fluorescent markers to analyze cellular structures in aquatic organisms that include axolotls, nematostella, worms, cephlapods and zebrafish. In addition, this course will provide hands-on experience on molecular tools to generate DNA constructs and introduce the use of CRISPR as an important tool to knockdown gene function in genetic and non-genetic experimental systems.

  • Physics III and Stem Cells and Regeneration cannot be taken concurrently.  

BIOS 20198   Biodiversity

Nipam Patel     

This course presents an overview of the diversity of living organisms, including archaea, bacteria, single-celled eukaryotes, fungi, plants, and animals, with an emphasis on their evolutionary histories, relationships, and the biological and evolutionary implications of the characteristic features of each group. We will explore how these different lineages have evolved remarkable solutions to challenges in locomotion, metabolism, and life in extreme environments.  Work in the lab will take advantage of the diversity of organisms that live around, or are maintained at, The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.

BIOS 27724  Imaging for Biological Research

Louis Kerr     Carsten Wolff

Imaging has been, and continues to be, a critical tool in biological research.  This course will introduce students to the fundamentals of imaging, but will quickly advance to discussing cutting edge advancements in the field.  More importantly, the course will focus on hands-on opportunities to use state-of-the art microscopes, as well as provide an opportunity for students to design and execute an original research project which makes use of the skills gained during the course.  Students will begin by building their own, simple microscopes, and then move on to learning how to use confocal and electron microscopes, as well as mastering techniques for fixed and live sample preparation.  In addition, students will analyze the data they collect using several software tools.  Lectures will be designed to introduce each topic, as well as highlight limitations and challenges in the field.

  • Biodiversity and Imaging for Biological Research cannot be taken concurrently.

BIOS 27751  Biological Oceanography

SEA (Sea Education Association

This three-week course addresses fundamental oceanographic processes that maintain and structure marine biodiversity and productivity, including physical oceanographic processes of dispersal and upwelling, environmental selection, biogeography, nutrient dynamics, primary production, and food web dynamics. Students will design an original research project during an initial week-long shore component at MBL, and then address their own questions by collecting samples and data aboard Sea Education Association (SEA)’s oceanographic research sailing vessel, the SSV Corwith Cramer, on an offshore voyage. At sea, students will deploy oceanographic instruments, interpret various data streams, and work as research teams and watch members as they navigate and sail the vessel.  During the final few days of the course, students will analyze and interpret the data they collected and present their results in written and oral reports.

NSCI 21530 : Dynamic Camouflage: Behavior, Visual Perception and Neural Skin Patterning in Cephalopods

Roger Hanlon

This course takes an integrative approach to understanding a neurally controlled system of dynamic defense against visual predators. Camouflage is a widespread form of defense throughout the animal kingdom in every known habitat - land or sea. In the oceans, cephalopods (cuttlefish, octopus, squid) have evolved a sophisticated sensorimotor system called Rapid Adaptive Coloration, which can instantaneously change their total body appearance within a fraction of a second to range from highly camouflaged to startlingly conspicuous for a wide range of behaviors. The forms and functions of this dynamic system will be teased apart in integrative fashion in a top-down approach from ecology to organismal biology to organs, tissues and cells. The course touches on neural anatomy, sensation, visual perception (including psychophysics) and animal behavior. There are also applied biology aspects of this system that will be presented as well.

  • NSCI 21530 is available for students who are unwilling or unable to spend time at sea (space permitting)

ARTV 10100  Visual Language: On Images

Frances Lee         Nipam Patel

The curriculum for this course will use four methodologies in the understanding of images: Observation, Analysis, Production and Critique. We will work through a series of individual and group assignments to understand how images have meaning and can communicate as a kind of language. Taught on site at the Marine Biology Laboratory, we will use the surrounding environment of the lab and landscape to think through the topics of the course such as nature and culture, illusion, camouflage and adaptive color, analogy, metaphor, subjectivity and the role of the author. Students will use the formal concepts of line, value, texture, color, scale, repetition and positive/negative space to think critically about how images mediate knowledge. The goal of this intensive studio course is to investigate aspects of visual art through hands-on processes, research into historical and contemporary artistic practices, and critical discussions in order to develop our ability to read and respond to the visual world.

  • Visual Language: On Images is an optional course. Completion will fulfill the general education requirement in the arts.  If you have already fulfilled your core arts requirement and would like to take this course, you will get credit for a general elective.