Biology: The Science of Life

Course No. 1500
Professor Stephen Nowicki, Ph.D.
Duke University
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Course No. 1500
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore how DNA stores, transmits, and modifies genetic information.
  • Discover how single cells work together to form complex multicellular organisms.
  • Examine how living systems obtain the energy and other materials needed to maintain their highly ordered state.
  • Make better sense of biology with help from hundreds of photographs, diagrams, animations, and on-screen text.

Course Overview

One of the greatest scientific feats of our era is the astonishing progress made in understanding the intricate machinery of life. We are living in the most productive phase so far in this quest, as researchers delve ever deeper into the workings of living systems, turning their discoveries into new medical treatments, improved methods of growing food, and innovative new products.

"The 21st century will be the century of biological science, just as the 20th century was the century of physical science," predicts Professor Stephen Nowicki, an award-winning teacher at Duke University who has specially adapted his acclaimed introductory biology course for The Teaching Company to bring you up to date on one of the most important fields of knowledge of our time.

This intensive, 72-lecture course will give you the background and guidance to explore in depth the fundamental principles of how living things work—principles such as evolution by natural selection, the cellular structure of organisms, the DNA theory of inheritance, and other key ideas that will help you appreciate the marvelous diversity and complexity of life.

Explore Living Systems at All Levels

Make no mistake: This is a challenging course. But the rewards are tremendous. You will explore living systems at all levels, from biological molecules to global ecosystems. Along the way, you will gain insight into some of the most pressing questions facing society:

  • What does it mean to say that the human genome has been sequenced, and why should we sequence the genomes of other species?
  • How is an organism genetically modified or cloned, and what are the benefits—or potential costs—of doing so?
  • What are stem cells, and how might they contribute to health and welfare?
  • Why is HIV/AIDS so difficult to treat?
  • What will happen if vast tracts of tropical rainforest are cut down, and why does it matter that the temperature of the Earth is rising?

In addition, you will discover the mechanisms behind such intriguing phenomena as why children resemble their parents, what causes plants to bend toward light, how memories are stored, why some birds have very long tails, and how life itself began on Earth.

Above all, you will learn how to think about biology, so that in your day-to-day life you will understand the significance and complexities of news stories, medical issues, and public debates, not to mention what is going on in your own garden and in nature all around you.

The Unifying Themes of Biology

Professor Nowicki presents the subject in a conceptual format, emphasizing the importance of broad principles. Facts and details are offered in abundance, but in the context of developing a framework that listeners can absorb.

The course is organized around three unifying themes:

  • Starting with "Information and Evolution" (Lectures 1-24), you investigate how information about the structure and organization of living things is found in the DNA molecule, how this information is transmitted and modified, and the implications of these processes for understanding life. One important conclusion of this discussion is that species inevitably change over time; that is, that life evolves.
  • In "Development and Homeostasis" (Lectures 25-48), you consider two related issues for understanding the workings of complex organisms: how single cells (fertilized eggs) proliferate and transform into complex, multicellular organisms, and how parts of complex organisms remain coordinated and maintain their integrity in the face of different challenges.
  • In "Energy and Resources" (Lectures 49-72), you learn how living systems obtain the energy and other materials needed to maintain their highly ordered state and the implications of these processes for understanding the organization of biology at all levels of scale. Ultimately this investigation leads into the discipline of ecology and to considerations of energy and resource limitations for the entire planet.

The Great Experiments of Biology

One of the distinctive features of this course is that you learn much of the material through the great experiments that revealed new and unexpected aspects of the living world to science, including:

  • Gregor Mendel discovered the fundamental principles of inheritance through his work on trait transmission in garden peas in the mid-1800s
  • Thomas Hunt Morgan introduced the fruit fly as a model system for modern genetics in the early 20th century. Morgan's work and that of his many students demonstrated that genes occur on chromosomes.
  • Konrad Lorenz's mid-20th-century work on releasers and fixed action patterns in the behavior of greylag geese and other animals helped establish the modern study of animal behavior.
  • Arthur Kornberg's discovery of DNA polymerase in 1958 helped spark today's revolution in biotechnology and genetic engineering.

In your systematic study of biology under Professor Nowicki's guidance, you will encounter a wealth of interesting information and observations, such as:

  • Some cells in a developing organism are preprogrammed to die, a process that is important, for example, in creating the spaces between our fingers and toes.
  • The accumulation of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere following the evolution of photosynthetic bacteria was a disaster of global proportions for most of the organisms that lived before oxygen appeared on the planet.
  • The ability of cells to recognize self from non-self is widespread in animals, even among creatures as simple as sponges. If you take two sponges of the same species and dissociate their cells, then mix those cells, the cells will reassociate with the individual they came from.
  • Some species of moths and butterflies develop into different looking caterpillars or adults depending on the time of year that they happen to be born. It is the available food source that turns the caterpillar into one form or another.

The diversity of life is indeed remarkable—and so will be your experience with this course. You may not understand everything the first or even the second time you hear it, but "the point isn't to remember the details," says Professor Nowicki. "The point is to understand how the details are processed, how they're analyzed, how biologists come up with these ideas, and how to think about the new information you might encounter in the future.

"My goal in teaching is to have somebody able to open up a newspaper and say, 'I understand why this is an important discovery in biology.'"

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72 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Scope of "Life"
    The first lecture gives an overview of biology, raising key questions about the nature of life and the origin of living things, and concludes with an outline of the structure of the course. x
  • 2
    More on the Origin of Life
    This lecture outlines the challenges of evolution for living entities such as we recognize today, and reviews experimental data suggesting how these challenges might have been met. The process of reproduction identifies the concept of information in biology, and introduces the connecting theme for the first third of the course. x
  • 3
    The Organism and the Cell
    Professor Nowicki outlines the hierarchical nature of biological systems and introduces two fundamental levels of the hierarchy: the organism and the cell. x
  • 4
    Proteins—How Things Get Done in the Cell
    This lecture describes the four major classes of biomolecules—lipids, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and proteins—and discusses the role of proteins in the life of the cell. x
  • 5
    Which Molecule Holds the Code?
    Key experiments in the first half of the 20th century led to the conclusion that DNA is the information-carrying molecule. x
  • 6
    The Double Helix
    Experiments by Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and others led to the discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double helix structure of DNA, suggesting a mechanism by which the information in DNA can be replicated. x
  • 7
    The Nuts and Bolts of Replicating DNA
    After describing how the theory of DNA replication was confirmed, Professor Nowicki summarizes the process, which has been the key to understanding and manipulating biological systems. x
  • 8
    The Central Dogma
    We are introduced to the "central dogma" of molecular biology: Genetic information flows in one direction only—from DNA to RNA to proteins, not in reverse. x
  • 9
    The Genetic Code
    How is protein structure coded in DNA? This lecture describes the experiments that cracked the code and examines the code's defining properties. x
  • 10
    From DNA to RNA
    Step one in the journey of genetic information from DNA to proteins is the process of transcription, by which messenger RNA is made from a DNA template. x
  • 11
    From RNA to Protein
    Completing the description of how genetic information finds its way to functional proteins, this lecture covers the process of translation, which is the synthesis of proteins based on an RNA template. x
  • 12
    When Mistakes Happen
    We learn the causes for errors that creep into DNA during copying and the mechanisms that have evolved to detect and repair those errors. x
  • 13
    Dividing DNA Between Dividing Cells
    Moving from the molecular level to the level of cells and organisms, this lecture addresses the question: When a new being is produced, how does it acquire DNA from its parents? x
  • 14
    Mendel and His Pea Plants
    The first of two lectures on Gregor Mendel's 19th-century experiments on the genetics of pea plants shows how this work anticipated the modern understanding of genes, chromosomes, and the formation of gametes during meiosis. x
  • 15
    How Sex Leads to Variation
    This lecture continues the discussion of Mendel's contributions to genetics, turning to subsequent experiments in which he looked at the transmission of more than one trait. x
  • 16
    Genes and Chromosomes
    We explore the understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of genetics that emerged after Mendel at the turn of the 20th century. x
  • 17
    Charles Darwin and "The Origin of Species"
    At almost the same time that Mendel was working on his laws of inheritance, Charles Darwin was completing his theory of natural selection, which sought to explain the change of species over time. x
  • 18
    Natural Selection in Action
    This lecture presents several examples that demonstrate natural selection in action, including data from both field studies and laboratory experiments. x
  • 19
    Reconciling Darwin and Mendel
    The apparent conflict between Mendel and Darwin was resolved through the "modern synthesis," which models gene frequency changes in populations. x
  • 20
    Mechanisms of Evolutionary Change
    Natural selection is not the only cause of evolution. Other factors can produce changes in the gene pool of a population, the most notable being genetic drift. x
  • 21
    What Are Species and How Do New Ones Arise?
    Professor Nowicki discusses problems with the biological species concept, introduces alternate definitions, and describes the process of allopatric speciation. x
  • 22
    More on the Origin of New Species
    Continuing the discussion of how new species arise, this lecture looks at sympatric speciation, which occurs in the absence of physical separation of populations. x
  • 23
    Reconstructing Evolution
    How do biologists organize the enormous diversity of living things? We learn about phylogenetic systematics as an approach for reconstructing evolutionary history. x
  • 24
    The History of Life, Revisited
    This lecture takes a final look at the concept of information and evolution in biology by returning to the question of how an original, primordial life form might have given rise to the complex biodiversity observed today. x
  • 25
    From Cells to Organisms
    This lecture recaps material presented to this point and introduces the second major section of the course, "Development and Homeostasis," by looking at the mystery of complex, multicellular, self-regulating organisms. x
  • 26
    Control of Gene Expression I
    What makes cells different? We look at the mid 20th-century experiments of Jacques Monod and François Jacob in search of the mechanisms of gene regulation. x
  • 27
    Control of Gene Expression II
    We continue our investigation of how the proteins in a cell are determined by mechanisms that turn on and off the expression of specific genes. x
  • 28
    Getting Proteins to the Right Place
    Producing the right proteins at the right time is only the first step. This lecture explains how proteins find themselves in the right places inside or outside a cell. x
  • 29
    Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
    The mechanisms cells use to replicate and transcribe DNA have shown researchers how to modify genes, transfer genetic material, and sequence genes. x
  • 30
    How Cells Talk—Signals and Receptors
    This lecture is the first of two that explore how molecular messages control cell function, focusing on how signals outside the cell get their message to the inside of the cell. x
  • 31
    How Cells Talk—Ways That Cells Respond
    Continuing the discussion of extracellular signals and cell function, this lecture focuses on the molecular mechanisms by which signals can change the way cells work. x
  • 32
    From One Cell to Many in an Organism
    How does a single cell develop into a fully formed organism? This lecture outlines the major questions surrounding development. x
  • 33
    Patterns of Early Development
    Professor Nowicki describes the four earliest stages of animal development—fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, and organogenesis—outlining the processes involved in each. x
  • 34
    Determination and Differentiation
    Developmental processes cause cells to differentiate into many different types of cells. One such mechanism is cytoplasmic segregation. x
  • 35
    Induction and Pattern Formation
    The second major mechanism involved in differentiation is induction, in which cells stimulate each other to develop in different ways. x
  • 36
    Genes and Development
    This lecture examines the development of the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) as an example of the influence of specific genes on pattern formation. x
  • 37
    Homeostasis refers to an organism's ability to maintain a constant internal environment. We explore the nature of this mechanism and look at examples such as the regulation of body temperature. x
  • 38
    Hormones in Animals
    Homeostasis requires the different parts of a complex organism to communicate with each other. This lecture focuses on the endocrine system, which uses chemical signals called hormones to transmit physiological information. x
  • 39
    What is Special about Neurons?
    This lecture begins a discussion of the nervous system by examining neurons and the properties that enable them to transmit information over long distances at high speeds. x
  • 40
    Action Potentials and Synapses
    We review the initiation of action potentials and discuss how the anatomy of the neuron allows action potentials to propagate along the axon. x
  • 41
    Synaptic Integration and Memory
    In addition to transmitting information, the nervous system must also be able to process it. This lecture covers how inputs to a typical neuron are processed and stored. x
  • 42
    Sensory Function
    This lecture looks at the basic principles underlying sensory function—the mechanism by which animals obtain information from their environment. x
  • 43
    How Muscles Work
    Turning to the output side of cell function, Professor Nowicki examines muscles, describing the molecular basis for how muscle cells change their shape and exert force in doing so. x
  • 44
    The Innate Immune System
    How do animals defend themselves from injury or infection? We see how the nonspecific, or innate, immune response provides a general defense. x
  • 45
    The Acquired Immune System
    What happens if an infection can't be handled by nonspecific defenses? This is where the more specifically targeted and more efficient mechanisms associated with acquired immunity come into play. x
  • 46
    Form and Function in Plants I
    This lecture begins an examination of plant structure, development, and physiology, illustrating similarities and differences with analogous processes in animals. x
  • 47
    Form and Function in Plants II
    We continue our study of plant form and function by looking at how homeostasis is maintained in plants and by examining the ways plants respond to the external environment. x
  • 48
    Behavior as an Adaptive Trait
    This lecture discusses the adaptive significance of the ways organisms respond to stimuli. Why are some behaviors inflexible and others not? x
  • 49
    Energy and Resources in Living Systems
    Starting with a review of previous material, Professor Nowicki sets the stage for the third major theme of the course, "Energy and Resources," which moves from the level of molecules to global ecosystems. x
  • 50
    How Energy is Harnessed by Cells
    We look at the process by which cells obtain energy from a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). x
  • 51
    Enzymes—Making Chemistry Work in Cells
    Activation energy is the initial "push" required for a chemical reaction to proceed. This lecture examines the role and function of enzymes in facilitating chemical reactions in cells, which they do by effectively lowering this activation energy. x
  • 52
    Cellular Currencies of Energy
    We explore the chemical nature of ATP that allows it to serve as an energy "currency" for cells, and learn how energy is stored in glucose and other organic molecules, which allow them to act as a cellular "fuel" for making more ATP. x
  • 53
    Making ATP—Glycolysis
    This lecture introduces the three energy-producing metabolic processes in the cell—glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain—and looks in depth at glycolysis. x
  • 54
    Making ATP—Cellular Respiration
    Glycolysis extracts relatively little of the energy available in glucose. The complete harvest of this energy involves several additional processes, including the Krebs cycle and the electron transport chain. x
  • 55
    Making ATP—The Chemiosmotic Theory
    The electron transport chain is the process that ultimately uses the energy extracted from the breakdown of organic molecules such as glucose to drive the production of ATP, but how this worked was a mystery for decades. This lecture outlines the radical theory that finally solved this puzzle. x
  • 56
    Capturing Energy from Sunlight
    Living things require fuel to generate ATP. Some organisms generate fuel by converting the energy of sunlight into high-energy organic compounds through the process of photosynthesis. x
  • 57
    The Reactions of Photosynthesis
    Where does the added mass come from when a plant grows? The answer leads us to consider the reactions of photosynthesis and the Calvin cycle. x
  • 58
    Resources and Life Histories
    Many organisms have the capacity for the kind of explosive population growth associated with bacteria. Asking why such unchecked growth is rare provides a transition to considering energy and resources at higher levels of biological organization. x
  • 59
    The Structure of Populations
    Our survey of energy and resources moves to the level of populations, in which we define the term population and outline the characteristics of a population from an ecological perspective. x
  • 60
    Population Growth
    This lecture looks at population growth under the ideal conditions of exponential growth and under the more realistic assumptions of logistic growth. x
  • 61
    What Limits Population Growth?
    Does the logistic growth model describe the growth of real populations? The answer is "yes and no." We look at the factors that actually regulate population growth. x
  • 62
    Costs and Benefits of Behavior
    The behavior of an individual changes in a way that maximizes the difference between the costs and benefits that are accrued by that particular behavior. x
  • 63
    Altruism and Mate Selection
    Altruistic interactions are quite common, yet difficult to understand from an evolutionary perspective. An expanded definition of reproductive fitness provides an explanation. x
  • 64
    Ecological Interactions Among Species
    The interaction between predators and their prey is one of the most important in nature. We examine examples of these interactions and the principles that can be derived from them. x
  • 65
    Predators and Competitors
    This lecture looks in more detail at cases in which one species benefits and the other is harmed, and then focuses on competition where both species might be affected adversely by the other's presence. x
  • 66
    Competition and the Ecological Niche
    Continuing the discussion of competition in communities, we look at studies of how a competitive interaction affects species, which leads to the concept of the ecological niche. x
  • 67
    Energy in Ecosystems
    Environments store and release critical resources to the species that live in them. This lecture explores the flow of one such resource—energy—showing how inefficiencies in energy transfer can influence the abundance of a species. x
  • 68
    Nutrients in Ecosystems
    Unlike energy, nutrients are recycled into and out of ecosystems. To illustrate the significance of this fact, we follow the cycles of three critical nutrient elements: carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. x
  • 69
    How Predictable Are Ecological Communities?
    Many aspects of the structure and composition of ecological communities have been shown to be unpredictable. As a result, ecologists now focus on patterns of disturbance in communities instead of trying to describe the end-state of ideal communities. x
  • 70
    Biogeography is the branch of biology that attempts to account for the patterns of distribution of populations, species, and ecological communities on a global scale. We look at examples that illustrate key points. x
  • 71
    Human Population Growth
    For most of history, human population size was limited by the amount of resources available naturally in the environment. But humans have repeatedly redefined ways many resources can be obtained and used, an ability that has led to a dramatic increase in world population. x
  • 72
    The Human Asteroid
    The increasing loss of biodiversity means that species diversity is decreasing at the very moment of our greatest strides in biological understanding. Professor Nowicki closes with reasons for alarm and hope. x

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Stephen Nowicki

About Your Professor

Stephen Nowicki, Ph.D.
Duke University
Dr. Stephen Nowicki is Bass Fellow and Professor of Biology at Duke University. He is also Dean and Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education at Duke, and holds appointments in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and in the Neurobiology Department at Duke University Medical Center. Prior to taking his position at Duke, he was a post-doctoral fellow and assistant professor at The Rockefeller University. Professor...
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Biology: The Science of Life is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 105.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, in-depth course This was the first course I bought from the teaching company. I bought it because I was about to take introduction to biology as my first pre-requisite class to get into nursing school. I had very little background in the sciences, and was thrilled to get such a deep and all-encompassing lesson on biology before setting foot into a college. Since then, I have completed intro to bio as well as microbiology and anatomy and physiology 1&2, and completed this course again with new eyes. This course not only covered everything taught in intro to bio, but also went into many microbiology concepts (retroviruses, bacteriophages, etc.) anatomy and physiology (neurons, action potentials, muscles, immune system) and went into concepts that were beyond the scope of the classes I took (natural selection, evolution, human behavior, ecology, population structure and growth). I was particularly enthralled by the first two lectures about how life may have come from inorganic molecules because of the specific nature of early Earth, and not from a deity. I also liked the professor’s approach to the class. In the college courses I took, the approach was, “here’s the facts, here’s how it happens: A leads to B, to C, to D..” However, professor Nowicki is more of a narrator, telling how discoveries were made first through flawed hypothesizes which eventually lead to the correct conclusion when new facts were discovered. He integrates history and discusses specific experiments and the scientists who made the discoveries. After this course I have ordered several more from the teaching company. You really are getting college-level education for a fraction of the price, delivered by fantastic educators.
Date published: 2012-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Powerful Compilation and Explanation Unlike many other courses I have purchased from The Teaching Company, I bought this one to get me through the state level exeminations for high school teaching certification in Biology. Thus, I was NOT looking for casual entertainment, but rather I sought a solid, detailed, comprehensive review of modern biology at the college level. And I got it! Although a few more lessons on taxonomic classifications of life and on plants, fungi, and other simpler forms of life would have been helpful for my goal (I got that stuff from supplementary texts), this course is thorough, and does a terrific job of bringing the viewer up to date on college level general biology. Although this was mostly all I studied for the exams, I passed the state Biology teaching exams for Massachusetts, Florida, and the general multistate PRAXIS II exams with flying colors. For my purposes, the professor's propensity for reading from his notes rather than behaving like a TV anchor was not a problem. In fact, if anything it led to more precision and fewer mistakes in his presentation. If you're serious about learning university level biology, including the more challenging material, this is the course for you!
Date published: 2012-08-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too broad, insufficient depth Professor Nowicki is a superb lecturer, however I feel that a proper presentation of the material selected requires more than 36 hours of lectures. It would be a delight to hear 24 hours on a much abbreviated subset of the material currently presented. Professor Nowicki could then use his considerable talent to present topics in the depth they deserve. 50 years ago, my high school biology class read a series of seminal papers including those by Crick and Watson. The process took a week or two. It was hard, but rewarding. I would like to see a presentation of the same type of rigor here.
Date published: 2012-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course This course is extremely well organized and manages to introduce all the major branches of biology in a coherent, logic and surprisingly clear manner. Examples are well chosen, explained concisely but precisely. Given the monumental size of the task the result is remarkable. What you can gain from this course is not a mountain of details but rather a wide panoramic view of life and of the mechanisms that sustain it. Well done!
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from O.K., it isn't that entertaining I was amazed when I read many of the negative reviews for this course. Maybe some people are too used to being constantly entertained; as a Ph.D. scientist, I can assure you that much of science study is Not Fun. Science often has unfamiliar terms and concepts that require thought....if there is a lecture that you don't understand, may I suggest you do what I do: watch it again in a day or so? I do agree that I would have liked the lecturer to have at least read the lecture off a Teleprompter instead of his notes, but really, that is sort of nit-picking...I still like the presentation better than the courses where there is clearly no audience and I can sort of hear the song "That's Entertainment" in the back of my head as the lecturer reliably moves from one place to the next as he speaks and "reads" from clearly prop books or documents. The content is excellent. I recommend the course highly-I've watched the course twice in it's entirety and within the next year, I'll no doubt watch it again.
Date published: 2012-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Heavy-Duty Course! A Definite Slog. This is an extremely tough course of 72 lectures; solid prior basic technical knowledge of subject would be most useful, otherwise it can be difficult to follow this highly-complex presentation. I'll be watching it again in order to derive maximum benefit as I do not have a science background. The professor is quite charming and affable, though has minimal eye contact. I recommend this course, suggest you give it your undivided attention when viewuing or listening to it.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but long and slow It's a good, not a great course. Dr. Norwicki does a solid job. Not like freshmen biology I took 40 years ago. Main emphasis is on: biochemistry, cellar biology, population ecology and genetics. If you want to know the difference between a reptile and an amphibian; it's not here. It is a long course (36 hrs), and parts are quite dry. So perseverance is needed. Not for the casual viewer. Only for those this strong interest in the material.
Date published: 2012-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course The course is full of information, which i like. The organization of the course material is appropriate. For the most part, the subjects are presented in an interesting way. Professor is not a showman, but is a very satisfactory presenter. I think he taught the subjects which could have been boring, in a good way. He has a bit informal presentation style, which is a little like discussion session. I think, that style pulls the audience to the course. The course is a long one and still does not include some major parts of the biology. However, I don't think that is a bad thing. The professor gave enough time to the parts he included in the course. So the material has completeness and you get the picture. If he had been covering more, you would be learning less. In general, if you are interested in the subject, I can recommend this course without hesitation. If you are not that into biology, the course can bore you.
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Course Oh my God! After viewing this excellent course I searched for and purchased a university textbook on molecular biology. The molecular science in the course was especially riveting. Lots and lots of terms. A label for every object, phenomenon, and process; much like learning a new language, but very exciting. Twelve DVD's and they are so good that I've already viewed every minute of them twice!. I've had a successful thirty year career as a systems programmer for a large aerospace company, but this course made me wonder if I had chosen the right profession. Kinda wish I could be 18 years old again. Don't hesitate on this set. It's worth every moment.
Date published: 2011-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Looking into my dog's eyes DVD review. “BIOLOGY: THE SCIENCE OF LIFE targets different audiences. I have my own peculiarities. I am not a university student or a biotech stock investor. I am instead a semi-retired couch spud more familiar with TV nature documentaries than science books. And one of the best I ever saw was David Attenborough’s wonderful BBC series THE LIFE OF BIRDS. Each film in the series was built around a problem: How is flight possible? How do birds eat without getting too heavy? How do they find mates and care for eggs in environments that are often hostile? Etc. Etc. Beyond the beautiful images, the series provided many insights as to WHY certain traits worked and others proved fatal. Dr. Nowicki’s course follows a similar strategy. Biology is a huge subject. He subdivides it into three key problems: — How does life replicate itself? Life is a form of order based on a code. How is this information transmitted and then used by each cell? This involves some biochemistry, but nothing too heavy if you read the course summary book after each course. — Once cells are replicated, they must maintain internal order. Multi-cellular organisms like us, in particular, cannot exist for long unless our “internal environment” remains stable. To do that, our cells have to communicate with each other. How is this done? — Finally, the whole thing requires fuel or it falls apart. How is energy captured, stored and released just in the right doses? And how is this energy exploited through whole populations that are interdependent? All problem-driven as you can see. We don’t get lost in classifications for the sake of classification. If you are patient and refer to your summary book regularly, you will be thrilled by how thorough Nowicki is. Life as he presents it is a huge cathedral full of recurring patterns across many dimensions, from the incredibly small to the planetary. PRESENTATION is another matter. He stands before a table and refers to his notes very often. He knows his subject very well, so he speaks quickly. At no point is he simply reading a text at less than normal speed. Still, if you are looking for a lecturer who keeps eye contact with the camera, you may be disappointed. It personally made no difference to me. I got used to it within 5 minutes, and never looked back. To sum up, this TTC course is science at its best. Galaxies and sub-atomic particles are fine, but when I look into my dog’s eyes I perceive a kinship I want to understand more deeply. This is an ideal first step. And get the DVD. Many of the images provided are absolutely crucial.
Date published: 2011-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The most rewarding course from Teaching Company Out of many science courses I have watched from the Teaching Company, this one is definitely the most rewarding. This course actually has inspired me to go back to the university. I want to become a Molecular Biologist. It has been 20 years since I took Biology at my high school. I had never thought that Biology could be so interesting and rewarding to learn until I took this course. This course has opened my mind about the wonder and beauty of Life Science. This course is not the typical Biology classes that I had taken in my life before. Instead of putting me to sleep with Anatomy, this course teaches me how living organism works at the molecular level. 2/3 of this course concentrates on Molecular Biology and Microbiology and the remaining 1/3 concentrates on Ecology. Most of the topics in Molecular Biology and Microbiology are new to me and some of the topics in Ecology are not so new but still rewarding to know. Some people complain that the professor read the text on his desk as he taught. It may bother some people but I get used to it after just two lectures. Besides, he didn't do it all the time. As the course progress, he spent less and less time reading the text and more and more time looking at his audiences. Please note that while this course is very rewarding, it is not an easy course that you could take while eating pop corn. It requires your full attention. This course is also not designed for audio only format. So, please do not buy the audio format. If you just listen to this course without seeing the illustrations from DVD, most of the information being taught in this course would be lost. The guide book contains less than 1/10 of the illustrations presented in the DVD. So, don't rely on the guide book to see the illustrations. In fact, I would recommend that you take a screen shot of the illustrations presented in the DVD and refer to them when reading the guide book. I bought a college text book recommended by the professor after finishing the course. I must say that without taking this course, reading the text book would be a pretty daunting task but the course gives me more than enough background to read the text book with ease. I highly recommended this course. It has opened my mind and I hope it will open yours too.
Date published: 2011-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional Course I loved this course. I had Biology in college and thought a refresher might do me good. It was so much more and so much better than I'd expected. The course material was organized differently than I had previously experienced and the approach was very rewarding. The framework of the course helped to integrate new concepts and material. I found the plant biology section quite interesting as well, as I had previously been exposed primarily to animal biology. I have been disappointed in very few Teaching Company courses and this was no exception - simply a wonderful course.
Date published: 2011-04-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor presentation This course is absolutely jam packed with great material...probably everything one would want to know on the subject. Unfortunately, the presentation is poor. Although the instructor is obviously enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject, he reads the material verbatim from notes and often stumbles or states something incorrectly and then corrects himself. The net result is that key ideas often get confused. The other thing is, the graphics are trivial so the DVD isn't worth the extra money over and above the CD. Maybe the course got such high reviews based on the CD, where perhaps the instructor could read the notes without distraction and resultant stumbling. Overall I think I may return the course and get a decent textbook instead.
Date published: 2011-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Biology Course This is everything you need to understand the basics of biology from the basics to molecular biology. After taking this course you will be completely equipped to engage in today's most pressing biological debate.
Date published: 2011-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Responsible for my A in College Biology This course is amazing! The lectures made crystal clear what had become a quagmire by reading the text alone. Oh, I do recommend that you purchase one of the Biology text that the Professor recommends. Suddenly, the opaque facts in black in white come alive in living color. That's the way it was for me. The course was very in depth and thorough. The Professor mixed up the order a bit, but his years of experience gave him insight as to a possible better logical order to deliver this massive amount of biological data. I received most of the high grades in my class due to this lecture course. While my Professor at college was great and insightful, I can't rewind her over and over as I soak in the ever complicated information that is the foundation of modern biology. Thanks to Dr. Nowicki for this amazing course. Someone of his academic stature did not need to do this 36 hour lecture series, but he did; I am so much the better for it. Homeschoolers who feel they may be missing out should definately get this; nothing is short changed here. Honors students who are hard pressed for time will also benefit too; they can rewind all night like I did automatizing this material. Lifelong learners will revel in the breadth and depth of this material, for not only is the material covered but extra time is given to reveal the history of many of the ideas that have lead to modern biological "dogmas."
Date published: 2011-01-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from poor presentation Very poor presentation. Professor speaks very quickly and monotonously which makes it difficult to follow him. He is boring. Material is comprehensive but lacks visuals. It is all read from the script – there are very few slides or diagrams and those are flashed before your eyes on an ugly background. The weakest presenter I watched so far.
Date published: 2010-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I hoped for This was exactly what I hoped for. Well worth my money and time. It was the appropriate level of detail that I was expecting/hoping for from such a long class. He got into the 'how' enough to satisfy me (and as much as I think he could have, given the time constraints). I felt like I really learned and retained substantial info from this class. I have been highly recommending this class to my friends and family. I would love to see this same professor come back and do a similar class on any one of his major themes, probing them with more detail.
Date published: 2010-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tour De Force I came to this course by way of the Origins of Life course. After Origins, I wanted more in-depth knowledge of molecular biology. This course filled the bill, as well as having a wide array of topics beyond biology at the cellular level. At 72 lectures, this was the longest Teaching Company course I have purchased. It covers the same range of topics and level of detail of a freshman or sophomore intro biology course in college. Despite the length, my interest never flagged. Unlike most of the lecture courses I have bought, it was absolutely essential to use the course notes both before and after each lecture to really grasp what the lecturer was trying to communicate. I also supplemented the lectures by going to YouTube and watching animations of the various cellular processes covered in the course.
Date published: 2010-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply amazing I have listened to 98 TC classes and this is my first review. This class is simply too good for me to stay silent. I bought it because I'd given up on getting a course in biochemistry and realize now that this was just what I had been looking for. The title threw me: I expected a pretty basic introduction to biology, but this is the most rigorous, most fufilling TC class I've ever listened to (Cosmology had been my previous number 1). Definitely not for casual listening, but well worth the effort if you really want to gain a deeper understanding of cellular and molecular biology.
Date published: 2010-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly informative!! One of the most detailed and highly informative/detailed courses I've ever taken. Professor Nowicki is not too easy to understand however because the material flows pretty fast. You gotta keep up with the guidebook in order to get what exactly is he talking about. I totally recommend this course to anyone who has even the slightest interest in Biology and I guarantee you won't be disappointed if it's the information and knowledge you're looking for. 5 out of 5 without any hesitation.
Date published: 2010-08-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from not great I echo the presentation problem. The reading is annoying, and he lacks a real mastery of his presentation, which is distracting. The course is also overly long in my view, and the last section seems completely unrelated to the first section, which seems to be more of what I would consider "biology." The first section has great information and current science on the most minute strucutres in our bodies, DNA, RNA, proteins etc., and the discussion of cell development and division, and embryonic growth (from essentially a blank cell) is worth the price of admission. I wish this had been done a bit slower and more clearly. The last section is about "systems" and "groups," but is really just fairly strightforward discussion of the structure of the world. I hardly need a PhD from Duke to understand that limted resources in an area will restrict the population growth, or that increases in predators will increase death rates. Nice, but less informative than a good article in Discover.
Date published: 2010-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spiritually inspiring!! I'm an Emergency Physician who went to MIT as an undergraduate and have spent countless hours studying science,math, and biology in my younger days. For this reason I hesitated to take a basic biology course but I'm so thankful I gave it a try. Dr Nowicki explains biology in a way I never got to during all my years in the classroom. Maybe it's my years of experience that set me up for this but I think it's Nowickis mindset that allows this to happen. He repeatedly anticipates my next common-sense question and answers it clearly. I saw the big picture, the incredible beauty and amazing complexity of life on our planet. I kept thinking to myself, "what are the chances things could be organized in such an intricate but perfectly crafted way" as he described each system. I actually felt a spiritual rising & profound appreciation mixed with gratitude for the natural world and Dr Nowicki for explaining it in it's grand details.
Date published: 2010-05-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Over my head This course contains 72 lectures @ 30 minutes. The first 45 lectures are mostly biochemistry. I have a B.S. in chemistry, but I couldn't understand these lectures. After Lecture 45 the topics changed to populations, which I did understand. The professor is an excellent lecturer; my only complaint is the complexity of the chemistry-based lectures.
Date published: 2010-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biochemistry: The Science of Life This is an outstanding summary of modern biology. My only warning is that this is not your average high school biology class in which you learn where the liver fits into the stomach area. Most of the course is serious biochemistry, which was sometimes hard going when listening to on CD during my commute to work (and I'm a PhD physical scientist). However, the material is excellent and well presented, and you'll gain a real appreciation of how life works at the fundamental levels of genetics, protein synthesis, energy and information, etc.
Date published: 2010-04-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great Content -Dissapointing presentation Stephen Nowicki has produced a course with great and in-depth content. A great disappointment however, was the presentation. Almost the entire course was read from a script and because of this, Stephen Nowicki seemed unable to reach out and engage the audience’s enthusiasm. The very limited repertoire of body language gestures were often confusing as they did not match content. As all other courses I have bought and thoroughly enjoyed are extremely well presented, I was a little puzzled at this major quality drop.
Date published: 2010-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Journey This is a fascinating journey through biology and presented in a unique manner. Professor Nowicki takes us from the inorganic to the organic, through DNA and most everything in between. There have been so many discoveries, even in the few years since this was recorded and the only thing that was lacking for me is a more up to date and fuller explanation of stem cells and genomics. Nevertheless, I just bought another DVD for a friend today. It is still a treasure.
Date published: 2010-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent! There is nothing to add to the encomioms of the other reviewers. I can only reiterate - I would have thought attempting a thorough overview of an entire field such as biology would be quixotic. It emphatically was not. This is one of the TC's best courses - impressive in both breadth and depth; superbly organized; does not talk down to us non-specialists, yet makes all concepts clear (with excellent visuals, by the way); with the added bonus of an engaging, articulate professor whose enthusiasm for his subject never falters. Highest recommendation for all!
Date published: 2009-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful This is a fantastic course. Because it is so long, it is able to take a ton of subjects (genetics, evolution, metabolism, ecology, etc.) and give them a decently detailed look rather than the hurried once over I got in college. The professor is also good at avoiding confusing jargon, except for some protein names (to be fair, its tough to avoid jargon-y names for molecules). In all likelihood, there will be a segment that doesn't hit your interest, but there will be six others that you'll love.
Date published: 2009-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course "Biology, The Science of Life" is a very engaging presentation full of great explanations. This is the best Teaching Company course I've listened to (and I've listened to about 30 courses as of writing this review). Mr. Nowicki does an excellent job of making concepts easy to understand. There is nothing I can fault about this course. Although this is one of the longest courses offered by the Teaching Company, it still allows only a brief amount of time for a lot of concepts. I'd love to have more, but Mr. Nowicki does an excellent job with the limited time available.
Date published: 2009-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Journey through the Science of Life Many years ago when I took college biology I was put off by the long hours of studying detailed classification schemes and frankly bored by the course content. Therefore, when I contemplated viewing this course I was at first reluctant to spend the money. Now I am extremely glad that I did. Professor Stephen Nowicki did a masterful job of organizing and presenting his lectures. The course content was not easy and I recommend that anyone thinking about taking it have at least some high school science courses under their belt. Some of the lectures on genetic replication and cell metabolic processes delve deeply into bio-chemical equations. It is absolutely necessary to present this material if you are to understand these processes. Dr Nowicki separated the course into three major topic areas. These were Information and Evolution, Development and Homeostasis and concluding with Energy and Resources. Of the 72 lectures I personally found the explaination of DNA and RNA and their associated processes and the discussion of how the cell operates the most informative as much of the material is based on recent research. This is truly a great course for someone interested in the biology of life and I highly recommend it. Dr Nowicki is not only a professional in his field he is also a great communicator.
Date published: 2009-11-29
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