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: group research proposal 1. 

Module 9: Electromyography (EMG) of voluntary muscle movement. Factors affecting lever strength. Homework: group research proposal 2.

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


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. 

OPPTAG Students

Pre-College Outreach: OPPTAG

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 neuro-prosthetics 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

Pre-College Outreach: 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.

Upward Bound Biology Summer 2019 timeline:



Assignments & Activities

Week 1


Vital Signs/Vital Signs Lab

Human Body Systems

Intro to Animal Cells/Microscopy Lab

Vital Signs Lab Report

Body Systems Worksheet

Animal Cell Worksheet

Microscopy Worksheet

Week 2


Intro to Human Tissues

DNA & Chromosomes

Cell Division (Mitosis)


Microscopy Assignment

Human Karyotype

DNA Worksheet

Modeling Mitosis


Week 3


Circulation and the Heart

Skeletal Muscle

The Nervous System

Heart Handout


Skeletal Muscle Contraction

Nervous System Cells

Week 4



Giving Oral Presentations in the Sciences

Presentation Outline

Final Presentations



OPPTAG Course Banner

Iowa State University

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