Life Science Major

Life Science Major

Life Science


The most important “system” in the Army is the human soldier. Because the soldier is a biological system, life science, biotechnology, and medicine offer unique potential for enhancing the performance of this most complex, critical, and costly of the Army’s systems. Life scientists study the structure and processes of living organisms using the unifying principles of life: cell theory, evolution, genetics, and homeostasis.

Offered by the Department of Chemistry and Life Science.

The life science major focuses on the evolution, structure, and processes of living organisms. Advances in molecular biology and biotechnology are providing significant improvements in the quality of our lives even as they alter the fundamental way we view life itself. Evolution, genetic engineering, recombinant DNA research, medical treatment, ecology, and emerging diseases are just a few of today's research areas under the life sciences heading. The life science major gives cadets a basic understanding of analytical and organic chemistry and biology, focusing on the broader understanding of biology and biotechnology. The life science major includes all the courses needed for cadets pursuing the medical school option as well as other post-graduate choices. However, life science majors do not need to be interested in becoming medical doctors; there are multiple opportunities available within many Army branches for life scientists to apply technical expertise. 

The USMA life science major is designed to help cadets understand the core concepts and principles of biological science, including having a basic knowledge of biological molecules, the cell, genetics, genetic and metabolic regulation, information flow, structure-function, energy transformation, interaction with the environment, and evolution as the universal themes of life.

Life sciences majors have a lab requirement component. This major offers an honors track.

Educational Objectives

Life Science majors will demonstrate the ability to effectively use a suite of analytical laboratory techniques, equipment, and digital tools appropriate for scientific investigations in biological research.

Cadet Outcomes

  • Understand the core concepts and principles of biological science, including a basic knowledge of the biological molecules, the cell, genetics, genetic and metabolic regulation, information flow, structure-function, energy transformation, interaction with the environment, and evolution as the universal theme in life.  
  • Demonstrate proficiency in oral and written presentation of experimental, peer-reviewed, literature-based biological research and preparation of journal article-style primary research reports and review articles.  
  • Demonstrate the ability to effectively use a suite of analytical laboratory techniques, equipment, and digital tools appropriate for scientific investigations in biological research and engineering design.  
  • Design and interpret hypothesis-driven experimental investigations, observational studies, and the engineering design process typical of biological science and engineering investigations.  
  • Effectively lead and work in collaborative scientific and engineering teams to address biological problems.  
  • Critically evaluate ethical and public policy issues involving the application of biological technology and information with respect to civilian and military populations.  

Meet Chemistry and Life Science leadership

Follow CLS on social media

To learn more about this area of study, visit the Department of Chemistry and Life Science.

A life science major must complete 40 courses: 27 core courses, including an engineering sequence, and 11 life science courses (9 required + 2 electives).

Required Courses

  • CH375 Advanced Biology: This course focuses on the evolution, diversity, structure, and processes of living organisms. The curriculum starts with a description of the structure and function of cells and their metabolism. These topics are used to explain DNA replication, transcription, translation, and gene expression. In turn these concepts serve as a foundation of knowledge examining natural selection, population genetics, biodiversity, and ecology. Emphasis is placed on related course material to current environmental issues and disease, particularly as these areas apply to military operations. 
  • CH383 Organic Chemistry I: Organic chemistry is an introduction to the relationship between chemical structure and the physical and chemical properties of molecules. A qualitative description of structure and bonding is presented. The relationships between free energy changes and equilibria, and between activation energy and rate of reaction are developed. Stereochemistry and isomerism are explored. The concept of the mechanism of reaction is presented and the relationships between mechanism, the least energy path, stable intermediates and transition states are exemplified by the reactions of the alkanes, alkenes, alkyl halides, and alcohols. The use of instrumental methods of structural analysis is also introduced. 
  • CH384 Organic Chemistry II: The reactions of the important functional groups are explored: conjugated alkenes; aldehydes; ketones; carboxylic acids; and amines. The concept of aromaticity is explored and its mechanistic implications are developed. Selected topics in carbohydrate and lipid chemistry are also studied. Functional group interconversions and synthetic strategy are presented. The laboratory capstone synthesis introduces cadets to multi-step synthetic sequences. 
  • CH385 Introduction to Cell Biology: The course will cover the structure and function of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. The course will present a detailed discussion on the molecular biology of DNA replication, transcription, translation, the control of gene expression, cell-to-cell signaling, and the cytoskeleton. Emphasis will be placed on research methods and techniques that have led to our understanding of how the cell works. 
  • CH387 Human Physiology: This course consists of an in-depth study of human physiology and the interrelationships between major organs and systems of the body. This course will concentrate on homeostatic reflex mechanisms of the human body. Major topics covered include endocrinology, neural physiology, muscles, cardiovascular physiology, respiratory physiology, renal physiology, digestion, immunology, and reproductive physiology. The laboratory program reinforces the foundational principles of thermoregulation, muscle, cardiac, respiratory, neural, sensory and renal physiology and introduces cadets to basic laboratory measurements and diagnostics for each of those subjects. 
  • CH388 Genetics: Genetics is the science of heredity. It is concerned with the physical and chemical properties an organism's genome, how the genome is transmitted from one generation to the next, and how genes are expressed in the development and function of an organism. Heredity is the process by which all living things produce offspring like themselves. This capacity for self-reproduction involves the transmission from parent to offspring of genetic information. This course is intended to develop an understanding the basic principles of genetics and to develop an ability to apply these principles to solve problems involving heredity. These genetic principles are built on a foundational understanding of DNA structure and replication, as well as basic cellular processes such as transcription and translation. Students will learn basic Mendelian genetics and progress to more complex genetic problems. These principles will be applied in the laboratory through the completion of a Mendelian genetics project. 
  • CH457 Microbiology: This course introduces the diversity of microorganisms in all three domains of life. The course covers prokaryotic cell structure and function, growth, genetics, and metabolism. The course will survey five major groups of microorganisms: eubacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi and viruses including ecology, their role in human disease and their applications in medicine, industry and warfare. Cadets have the opportunity to explore both a viral and a bacterial disease in-depth and present their findings in a briefing and a paper. The 18-hour laboratory program focuses on practical applications of concepts covered in class, with a particular emphasis on the eubacteria. The lab program culminates with a hands-on laboratory examination. 
  • CH473 Biochemistry: This course is an introduction to biochemical systems and concentrates on studying them from the molecular approach. Three themes are emphasized: 1) Structure - Function relationships, 2) Metabolism, and 3) Regulation of the systems and processes studied. The fundamental goals of the course are to provide students the basic knowledge of biochemistry and to give them a framework for analyzing problems and questions in life science studies. Additional emphasis is placed on familiarizing students with the experimental techniques used in biochemistry and their application to current issues of interest. 
  • CH479 Biotechnology: This course is intended to reinforce topics learned in other life science courses by studying laboratory and practical applications of biotechnology. Laboratories will concentrate on biotechnology methods including purification, separation, and identification or DNA, RNA and protein. Other biotechnology techniques that will be studied include recombinant DNA techniques, PCR, and DNA sequencing. Classroom lessons will include discussions of assigned readings on the modern applications of biotechnology.  

In addition to the 2 approved electives required for a Life Science degree, cadets can also participate in department research starting as early as their plebe year.  

Sample Electives 

  • CH376 Microscopy : This course provides a deep understanding of the wide variety of advanced techniques of light microscopy used universally to investigate living and fixed systems at the cellular and molecular level. This course consists of an examination of optical-based microscopy techniques based on light's behavior as a ray, as a wave, and as a particle. Microscopy techniques below the diffraction limit of light and ethics in image analysis are also studied. This course uses both theoretical and hands-on methods to develop a deeper understanding of the fundamental properties underlying the use of microscopy as a tool for the study of the amazingly diverse world too small for humans to see with the unaided eye. The course culminates in the use of laser scanning techniques to probe the microscopic world below the Abbe diffraction limit of light which was once believed to be impossible with light microscopy. Emphasis is placed on advanced microscopy concepts, equipment, problems and traditional microscopy challenges particularly as these areas apply to challenges facing military and civilian researchers in the world today. 
  • CH450 Bioengineering (Spring): This course provides a broad understanding of bioengineering disciplines to include biomechanics, biomaterials, tissue engineering, biocatalysis, biochemical engineering, and biosensors. Fundamental concepts of molecular kinetics, thermodynamics, and mass transport are applied in problem sets in each bioengineering sub-discipline and capstone design project providing students the opportunity for modeling, analysis, and design from the biomolecular to physiological length scale and across multiple time scales. Modeling software such as MATLAB and Mathematica is extensively used. 
  • CH460 Human Anatomy (Spring): This course is designed to provide cadets with a detailed study of the anatomical structure of the human body. Body structure will be studied by organ systems and will involve a balance between gross anatomical study and histology. Form-function relationships will be emphasized. The laboratory study will involve working with human skeletal collections and virtual dissection of cadavers and preserved specimens. The 14-hour laboratory program focuses on structural identification (naming) of human and mammalian anatomy and various imaging modalities (e.g., radiographs, CT scans), and computer programs. Cadets that successfully complete this course will have a good understanding of human body structure, construction, and function. 
  • CH499 Special Topics in Life Science: This course provides in-depth study of a special topic in chemistry, chemical engineering and life science not offered elsewhere in the USMA curriculum. Course content will be based on the special expertise of the Visiting Professor, Rotating PhD, or a senior faculty member. This course may also be offered as an AIAD course at USMA. This course will contain significant lab content to justify 3.5 credit hours. 
  • PL390 Biological Psychology: This course introduces the cadet to the physiological and anatomical structures and processes that underlie human behavior with emphasis on human performance. The course examines the structure of the nervous and endocrine systems, the mechanisms of seeing and hearing, movement, stress and arousal, learning, memory, biological causes of abnormal behavior, sleep, and language, and the effects on performance of damage to neural structures. Cadets are introduced to the scientific examination of real-world bio-psychological problems in laboratory assignments in examining tissue, brains, and eyes to provide three-dimensional realism to classroom instruction. This course provides the basis for competence in later engineering psychology electives. Biological Psychology is the "hardware" introduction to engineering psychology. 
  • CH289/290 Introduction to Research I/II 
  • CH389/390/391/392 Advanced Lab Projects I/II/III/IV 
  • CH489/490 Individual Research I/II 
  • CH491/492 Advanced Individual Study I/II 

This major offers an honors track. For the honors designation, a cadet must enroll in a year of 400-level research, have greater than a 3.5 GPA in major classes, and greater than a 3.0 in core classes.

To learn more, view the full Life Science Major Curriculum.

Cadets have numerous opportunities to participate in activities that will expand their intellectual and social interests within their field including medical school scholarship opportunities, Projects Day participation, and summer Academic Individual Advanced Development (AIAD) program, USMA-run academic enrichment experience.

The goal of the life science program is to prepare cadets to become complex problem solvers as second lieutenants on active duty, excel at the graduate school level in the life sciences, or apply, gain entry, and succeed in medical school. In addition to a curriculum that focuses on all aspects of living organisms from the smallest molecule to individual organisms as well as organisms in the environment, the program places heavy emphasis on conducting research. The “education through research” model provides cadets with opportunities to become better problem solvers, understand the scientific process, and prepare for graduate and medical schools. The life science program has a track record of providing opportunities that lead to cadet scholarships such as the Stamps, Goldwater, and Rhodes Scholarships as well as scholarships for the best medical schools in the country.

Check out our recent award and scholarship winners.

Honor Societies:
Golden Key - International Honour Society
Phi Kappa Phi - Oldest and Largest Collegiate Honor Society

To learn more about enrichment for this area of study, visit the Department of Chemistry and Life Science or the Center for Molecular Science.