If you are interested in studying the life sciences, we encourage you to explore the interdisciplinary foundational courses. These courses offer a unique approach to learning science.
We offer two options in the fall semester; you should enroll in the course that best suits your high school preparation. Incoming students should take the on-line placement exams in chemistry and biology for placement recommendations. Both fall semester courses cover topics in chemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology.
Life Sciences 1a (LS 1a) integrates chemical and biological concepts throughout the semester, and applies these concepts to issues of broad interest such as HIV and cancer. The semester culminates in a project in which students propose novel experimental directions for a scientific question of their choice.
Life and Physical Sciences A (LPS A), which is aimed at students with less high school preparation, introduces topics in general chemistry in the first half of the semester, followed by topics in molecular and cellular biology.
Life Sciences 1b (LS 1b) covers topics in genetics, genomics, and evolution. The semester culminates with symposia that draw together scientific and medical experts, patients, and patient advocates, who discuss genetic disorders that students investigated during the course.
The combination of LS 1a/LPS A and LS 1b serves as a foundation for further study in any area of the life sciences. The courses are open to both concentrators and non-concentrators, and also count for General Education requirements and pre-medical requirements. While a majority of students take these classes as freshmen, upper class students also enroll in LS 1a, LPS A, and LS 1b.
The foundational courses provide an exciting introduction to contemporary questions in the life sciences and promote valuable problem-solving skills, regardless of what you end up studying at Harvard.
Principles & Goals
The life sciences curriculum at Harvard rests on an interdisciplinary set of foundational courses. Each course is taught by a small team of faculty representing multiple departments to reflect the interdisciplinary design of the course. These foundational courses were designed with the following goals:
To offer an introductory course experience that reflects important and exciting questions in the life sciences.
To present students with essential knowledge and habits of mind drawn from the life sciences.
To teach students essential scientific knowledge and skills in the context of an integrative, question-oriented approach.
To promote insightful research and problem-solving skills.
To facilitate appreciation of the interdisciplinary connections between fields and to associate these connections with emerging new directions of science.
To recognize and express the diversity of intellectual and methodological approaches in the life sciences.
Life Sciences 1a (LS 1a) and Life Sciences 1b (LS 1b) were designed as the foundation for the life sciences concentrations. Based on your background preparation, Life and Physical Sciences A (LPS A) may serve as an alternative to LS 1a. The fall semester courses, LS 1a and LPS A, introduce chemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology. LS 1b, which is offered in the spring, covers topics in genetics, genomics, and evolution.
For course advice, you should take the biology and chemistry placement exams. Based on the results of the placement exams, you will receive a recommendation for your fall course – either LS 1a or LPS A. If you are unsure of which course to take, you should talk with a life sciences advisor. A team of life sciences advisors will be available to talk with you at the Science Advising Session in the Science Center during Opening Days.
Both LS 1a and LPS A are offered in the fall and are introductory courses in biology and chemistry. LS 1a integrates chemical and biological principles throughout the semester, and also applies these concepts to larger biological problems such as HIV and cancer. LPS A is aimed at students who, based on their background in chemistry or biology, require additional preparation before taking further science courses at Harvard. In LPS A, the first half of the semester is devoted to a study of general chemistry, and the second half of the semester explores molecular and cellular biology. It is beneficial to already have some familiarity with basic chemical principles when taking LS 1a. LPS A is particularly important for students with little or no chemistry background who plan to take PS 1 or PS 11 in the spring.
The biology and chemistry placements tests have been carefully constructed to give good advice about which course is most appropriate for you based on what you have learned in high school. You should take the course that is most appropriate for your background. Although LS 1a and LPS A take different approaches to studying chemistry and biology, either class will prepare you for later science classes.
All students are welcome in these courses, whether or not they proceed to more advanced work in the Life Sciences. First-year students who are interested in concentrating in any of the Life Sciences should take these courses. Students who wish to satisfy pre-medical requirements, but are not thinking of concentrating in one of the Life Sciences, are also encouraged to take these courses. For more information, please consult the OCS website.
Yes. Even if you have a strong high school background, these courses will provide new approaches to material that you will not have seen before, and the courses will prepare you for advanced Harvard courses more effectively than relying on your high school preparation alone.
If you have little or no science background, you should consider taking Life and Physical Sciences A (LPS A) in the fall. You should take the on-line chemistry and biology placement exams for course recommendations. Based on the results of the placement exams, you will receive a recommendation for your fall course.