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Practical Skills for the Biosciences


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 4
  • Convenors and tutors: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: five sets of lab notes (10% each), two mini reports (15% each) and a problem-solving test (20%); 80% attendance required (0%)

Module description

While studying biological sciences at university you will need to think critically about evidence and acquire essential practical skills. Some of the skills will be related to specific, common, biological techniques: gravimetric techniques (weighing and measuring, etc), microscopy, spectrophotometry, chromatography, electrophoresis, and so forth. Some skills will be generic and applicable in a variety of circumstances within your degree programme, for example: graph plotting, tabulation, analysing numerical data and report writing.

In this module you will establish basic laboratory and generic quantitative skills within the areas of biochemistry and molecular biology. The foundation gained will support your acquisition of new skills, as you progress through the linked series of Level 4 modules that follow (Quantitative Skills and Experimental Design and Laboratory Skills in Biochemistry). Overall, this Level 4 sequence will prepare you for more advanced laboratory work in molecular biology and protein biochemistry at Levels 5 and 6.

Indicative syllabus

  • Liquid handling: using a micropipette
  • Basic solution chemistry: preparing aqueous solutions of defined concentration and pH (including requisite calculations)
  • Basic principles of UV-VIS spectrophotometry: operation of spectrophotometers; transmittance, absorbance, Beer-Lambert Law
  • Applications of UV-VIS spectrophotometry: absorbance spectra, determining quantities of analytes from spectrophotometric data
  • Featured analytical techniques (may vary): Bradford protein assay; direct spectrophotometric assays

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • select and appropriately use micropipettes to accurately measure and deliver defined volumes of liquids
  • express solute concentration in various ways (mol L-1, % w/v , %v/v) and interconvert these expressions as needed
  • prepare solutions of defined concentration, by dissolution of solutes and/or by recombination/dilution of pre-existing solutions
  • select an appropriate pH buffer (e.g. in terms of pK and buffering range), and prepare a pH buffer of defined composition
  • use spectrophotometric techniques to determine the quantity of substances (e.g. protein, DNA, and/or other analytes) in solution and explain, at a basic level, the theory underpinning such determinations (e.g. through application of the Beer-Lambert Law)
  • use a light microscope for common laboratory applications, such as observing/counting cells
  • tabulate numerical data and produce graphs to a professional standard using software (e.g. Microsoft Excel)
  • keep neat and accurate records of laboratory activities and experimental findings
  • present laboratory findings graphically and evaluate these in writing, following a professional scientific paper format.