Interdisciplinary laboratories are a promising means of strengthening the physical science and quantitative background of life science majors and of introducing biology to uncommitted students or those majoring in other fields. Harvey Mudd College has developed an introductory laboratory course consisting of three-week interdisciplinary experiments that are openended and highly investigative. The goal of the laboratory course, called ID Lab, is to help students understand the research approach in science and the natural relationship between biology and other scientific disciplines. Case Study #6 illustrates one way to strengthen undergraduate education by making learning a highly active experience from the first day of college.

The other case studies (#7 and #8) and examples presented here are project-based laboratories that can engage students and cultivate independent learning. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather an array of examples that illustrate what can be done, and what is now being done, at institutions nationwide.


Not all schools will find it practical to adopt a completely project-based approach to their physics courses. If the traditional lecture is retained, modifications can still be made to the laboratory component of the course. Two ideas for getting started are included here. The first retains a straight physics approach, while the second incorporates ideas from engineering.

A Proposed Physics Laboratory Based on a “Crawl, Walk, Run” Approach

The physics laboratory can be used to introduce new concepts, in addition to its traditional use of reinforcing concepts already presented in lecture. Some concepts are best learned through laboratory exploration, such as error analysis, uncertainty, fluctuations, and noise. Furthermore, examples drawn from biology can be introduced in the section on Newtonian and macroscopic mechanics, as well as in other areas. Properties of materials (e.g., bone, tendon, hair), biological fluid flows, and motions of bacteria or bioparticles in water provide excellent opportunities. The laboratory is also a choice arena to teach principles of engineering as they apply to biology.

The “crawl, walk, run” approach is one means of developing the capac-

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