Foundational Courses

Foundational Courses

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. 

Fall semester:

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. 

Spring semester:

  • 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.