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Laboratory Experiences in Human Physiology


Undergraduate Experiences in Human Physiology Laboratory: Biology 256L

The Biology 256 Fundamentals of Human Physiology Laboratory course complements the Biology 256 lecture course and was designed to provide students with hands-on access to modern techniques in human physiological analyses using the course-based research pedagogical approach. In this course, students will learn how to perform literature searches; generate research questions and hypotheses; design experiments; collect, analyze, visualize and interpret data; and present scientific findings to others. Students gain scientific process skills by conducting experiments and/or clinical investigations each week. Around midterm, students write a series of short research proposals. The best proposal is orally presented to the class and peer reviewed in preparation for a final, original experiment. During the last week of class, findings from the student research projects are presented to the class. 

The Biol 256L curriculum offers a high-impact human physiology experience that fosters the critical thinking skills required to be a successful citizen in a modern world filled with misinformation. This goal is achieved by:

  • Creating a learning environment that relies on collaborative work and emphasizes communication among staff and peers.
  • Placing emphasis on collaborative assignments where students participate in experiments as experimenters and subjects.
  • Focusing on course-based undergraduate research (CURE) where the literature may not be conclusive on physiological outcomes of experiments. 

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Develop the skills necessary to examine and interpret issues related to human physiology from an evidence-based perspective.
  2. Synthesize ideas to make connections between the knowledge of anatomy, physiology and real-world problems involving human health and medicine. 

Learning Goals:        

  1. Learn how to use common tools and procedures of a physiology laboratory, including how to use data collection hardware and analysis software.   
  2. Understand how to make accurate measurements of physiological phenomena, including determining sources of error.
  3. Use knowledge of physiology concepts from lecture and the scientific method to propose, hypothesize about, and design experiments to test physiological phenomena.  
  4. Apply knowledge of graphs and charts to visually represent data.
  5. Write and make presentations about experimental conclusions using appropriate physiological terminology. 

Biology 256 Course Modules:

Course modules are delivered online in Canvas. Each Canvas module contains a pre-lab quiz and lab report. 

Module 1: Introduction to experimental methods in human physiology research. Homework assignment: obtaining credible information from literature searches. 

Module 2: Introduction to iWorx & LabScribe. Homework assignment: statistical analysis of human body temperature.Module 3: Properties of blood. Homework assignment: data analysis & visualization.

Module 4: Effects of temperature on peripheral blood oxygen saturation determined by pulse oximetry. 

Module 5: Clinical techniques: performing the neurological assessment.

Module 6: Factors affecting reflex times of the Achilles and patellar stretch reflexes. 

Module 7: Human nerve conduction: the nerve conduction velocity test and variables affecting conduction. 

Module 8: Auditory and visual pathways and reaction times. Homework: research proposal 1. 

Module 9: Electromyography (EMG) of voluntary muscle movement. Homework: research proposal 2.

Module 10: Reading the electrocardiogram (ECG) and correlation with heart sounds. Homework: research proposal 3.

Module 11: Breathing and gravity: factors affecting lung volumes.

Module 12: Modern uses of electrooculography (EOG) and eye tracking technologies. Homework: develop oral proposal presentation. 

During the last three weeks of the course, students present final research proposals for peer review, conduct their original experiments, and present the final experimental results. 

Students at STICR

Undergraduate Experiences in Human Physiology Laboratory: BIOLOGY 491 Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship

Motivated students who are high-achieving in Biology 256L may apply for Biology 491 to be an undergraduate teaching assistant in the physiology laboratory. Please contact Aron Nakama,, for more information. 

BIOL 256 Honors

Fundamentals of Human Physiology: Honors Component

The honors project for the BIOL 256 lecture course consists of a clinical and experimental techniques in physiology discussion group that meets 4-5 times before students make a choice to proceed with one of three possible projects in the physiology laboratory: 1.) electrooculogram (EOG) communication assistive device design challenge; 2.) a human nerve conduction velocity (NCV) experiment; or 3.) a prosthetic arm design challenge. Students meet for an hour once a week to discuss the techniques and fundamental physiological theory that are pertinent to each project. After a project is selected, students meet in the laboratory for several weeks to learn laboratory techniques, research and design assistive devices, develop experimental protocols, and conduct experiments or test prototypes. Summative meetings or lab sessions will be held to write the final project findings as a lab report.

Students will share the results of their project as a lab report detailing experimental and/or engineering design protocols required to complete the project and final outcomes of the project. The report will highlight the iterations of the project design and how testing of prototypes resulted in the final outcome(s). Finally, the lab report will include relevant background research and potential future work on the project.


Week 1: one hour meeting (introductory)

Week 2: one hour meeting (EOG)

Week 3: one hour meeting (NCV test)

Week 4: one hour meeting (prosthetics)

Week 5: laboratory meeting 1 (introduction to data collection)

Week 6: laboratory meeting 2 (experimental methods)

Week 7: laboratory meeting 3 (experimental methods/prototype testing)

Week 8: laboratory meeting 4 (prototype testing)

Week 9: summative laboratory meeting

Week 10: final report due

Honors 290: Build a 3D-Printable Prosthetic Device & BIOL 499: Bionics Research

Picture of 1233 Bessey Bionics Lab Members 2022

All engineering is about solving societal needs through design, but rarely is the societal need so visceral, life or death, or impactful on the human condition as the frontiers of biomedical engineering. As the world enters into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time when emerging technologies blur the boundaries of the physical, digital and biological, and as both the world’s human population and the average human lifespan continue to increase, engineering of personalized healthcare will be at the forefront of the next-generation innovations. 

One challenge facing biomedical engineers is the existence of major health disparities in the United States and globally. Health disparities are “the preventable differences in the incidence, prevalence and burden of disease” (Vazquez 2018) among communities targeted by gender, age, geographic location, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. The biomedical engineer is in key position to explore new paradigms and innovate technologies that reduce disparities in access to healthcare resources, particularly through individualizing healthcare for communities or individuals.

The 3D-printing community has made substantial progress in reducing the costs and wait time associated with the acquisition of the traditional prosthetic device, making prosthetics affordable and available across socioeconomic boundaries. The surge in interest in democratizing prosthetics through 3D-printing has led to a symbiotic burst of creativity in prosthetic design and vast opportunity for social entrepreneurship. In this group project led by Dr. Haen Whitmer, honors students will learn about 3D printing methods and will build a body-powered prosthetic hand. Basic neurophysiology concepts will be reviewed at the start of the project. Previous biomedical engineering experience is not required. 

BIOL 255 Honors Students

Biology 255 Fundamentals of Human Anatomy Honors Component: Neuroimaging

The honors component for BIOL 255 centers on utilizing fundamental human anatomy and physiology principles to explore clinical lab techniques relating to central nervous system disorders. The honors project consists of learning background fundamentals and clinical techniques in a discussion group that meets 4-5 times before students start laboratory work providing hands on practice using the technique. Summative meetings or lab sessions will be held to write a final lab report.

Students will share the results of their project as a lab report detailing the clinical protocols. The lab report will detail sufficient information about the technique so that other students may accurately use it in a practice diagnostic setting. The lab report will include relevant background research and potential future work using the technique.

Course timeline 2021

Week 1: introduction to neural cells and their functions

Week 2: synaptic functioning

Week 3: activation of skeletal muscle

Week 4: neuromuscular disease

Week 5: methods for recording neural activity

Week 6: methods for recording neural activity 2

Week 7: EEG setup 

Week 8-10: EEG analysis 


OPPTAG Students

Pre-College Outreach:

The Human Anatomy & Physiology laboratories host a range of exceptional pre-college students for experimental and exploratory work during the summer session.

Summer 2022 Lab Courses


OPPTAG (Retired Program)

Course: Introduction to the Human Body & Neuroengineering

Course location: 1233 Bessey Hall Laboratory

This summer course for pre-college students introduces human body structure and function. Morning sessions concentrate on developing a deeper knowledge of basic human anatomy, including learning the structure of human cells, tissues, organs and organ systems. Afternoon sessions are mostly devoted to understanding how these structures function by performing clinical measurements with laboratory-grade human physiology sensors placed on the surface of the body. This course places emphasis on engineering artificial devices for augmenting the functions of the human body, particularly neuroprosthetics and other human-computer interfaces.





Day 1

Introduction to animal cells & tissues. Microscopic examination of wet mount and preserved human tissues.

Analysis of body systems – dissection of model system organism (fetal pig). 

Day 2

Human circulatory & urinary systems. Electrical conduction system of heart. Heart and kidney dissection.

Understanding heart function with the EKG (electrocardiogram). Artificial hearts, LVAD and pacemakers.

Day 3

Fundamentals of skeletal muscle & its innervation: action potentials, the neuromuscular junction & muscle contraction.

Human nerve conduction study using EMG. 

EMG and human-machine prosthetics. Prosthetic claw challenge.

Day 4

The human-human interface. The central nervous system, motor control, and special senses. Brain and eye dissection.

Fundamentals of the electrooculogram (EOG) & ALS human-computer interface challenge.

Day 5

Finish EOG challenge & work on presentations.

Practice presentations & open house.


Upward Bound

This course introduces human body structure and function. Sessions concentrate on developing an introductory knowledge of basic human anatomy, including learning the structure of human cells, tissues, organs and organ systems.  

Most Monday-Thursday class sessions end with a homework assignment, lab report, or written summary. On Fridays, students take an exam covering the material from that week. Exams are a combination of structure identification questions on anatomy pictures or models and short answer essay questions. During Week 4, students work on short presentations that they will present to the class on the last day. These presentations will cover an approved topic related to the previous weeks’ materials.

Picture of robotic Cy.


Iowa State University

For more information on these courses please contact Karri Haen Whitmer at