Welcome to Bioc 415

Course activities

On-line resources

Introductory lab manual (Bioc 211)
Bioc 311 resources

Bioc 415 manual (pdf)

Bioc 415 appendixes (pdf)

Welcome to Bioc 415: Laboratory in Experimental Physiology

Bioc 415 is offered in the first half of each semester, starting the week after the Labor Day or MLK holiday. Please read the schedule (posted on Owlspace) carefully. Although the course is scheduled to meet twice per week Monday and Wednesday from 1:00-5:00 PM, some Wednesday meetings will start at 2:15. Discussion sessions will be held in ABL 329 (conference room, third floor, Anderson Biological Laboratory Building) with laboratory work to be conducted in GRB W112.

Course description

BIOC 415 is a "capstone" laboratory course in which students are to apply previously learned laboratory, quantitative, teamwork, and communication skills (among others) to some challenging studies of membranes, nerves, and muscles. Studies will address the origin of the membrane potential, generation/propagation of an action potential and properties of nerves, the molecular basis of muscle contraction, and control of contractile strength. This is the sort of material that comes at the beginning of a typical physiology course, and provides a foundation for understanding more complex phenomena.

A college level textbook of vertebrate physiology may help with background and concepts, however because this course places a different emphasis on the subject matter than does a typical textbook, no specific text will be assigned. We will go over concepts related to each subject at our discussion sessions. Attendance is required (see "policies" below) and you are expected to interact. The laboratory component of the course introduces methods, principles, and strategies for physiological data recording and analysis.


Your instructor will be David R. Caprette, Ph.D., office location ABL 327. Dr. Caprette's office hours for the fall semester 201 will be 11 to 1 on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. You may set up an appointment by email (caprette@rice.edu) any time.

Schedule of laboratory work

The course work, which in chronological order is divided into eight sets of activities, can be conducted in as little as eight days. To accommodate schedule conflicts, for fall 2011 we will conduct the work over the course of 12 class periods. Activities are summarized below and are also outlined under "Course activities," left guide bar.

  • Part 1 Introduction to the course. Training in analog-to-digital (A/D) recording.
  • Part 2 Role of the sodium pump in maintaining the cell rest potential. Record membrane potentials from untreated and oubain treated crayfish muscle.
  • Part 3 Influence of extracellular potassium and sodium ion concentrations on the rest potential.
  • Part 4 Training session - recording fast signals.
  • Part 5 Generating/measuring a compound action potential. Recruiting nerve axons. Strength-duration relationship.
  • Part 6 Measuring conduction velocity. Measuring a relative refractory period. Blocking nerve conduction.
  • Part 7 Generating a muscle twitch while recording active tension and muscle compound action potential. Staircase phenomenon. Recruiting motor units. Incomplete and complete tetanus.
  • Part 8 Isotonic and isometric length-tension relationships. Fatigue of a neuromuscular junction.

Course grade

Assignments will contribute to the final course grade in the following proportions. See the "Course activities" and/or Owlspace syllabus for details.

  • unannounced quizzes, 10%
  • experimental designs and laboratory work, 40%
  • two research papers, 25% each


Attendance is required. A student receives full credit for the experimental design only if he/she submits the assignment at the beginning of the relevant class (1 pm). The grade will be reduced by 10% if the student is late and no credit will be given for the assignment if the student misses the lab day. Unannounced quizzes will be given at the beginning of some class meetings and collected after tem minutes. There are no makeups. The grade for a paper that is submitted late will be reduced by 10% for each day or part of day past the original due date and time. For example, if the paper is due at 1 pm in class and is received that evening, the grade will be reduced by 10% if it is received after 1 pm the following day the deduction will be 20%. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays count.

Honor code policy

The Rice honor code applies to all assignments in this course. Students will work together to collect raw data. Raw data collection includes extracting numbers from computer records and the laboratory work itself. Data analysis is the responsibility of individual students. Data analysis includes choosing and uusing statistics or visual elements such as graphs in order to test hypotheses, and converting raw data to a presentable form. Alll submitted assignments must be the student's own work, in entirety. There is to be no co-writing of experimental designs or papers, paraphrasing of other students' work, or sharing of figures or tables. Students are not to allow access by other students to any of their work whether it is in preparation or in final form.

Students with disabilities

Any student with a documented disability needing adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with Dr. Caprette during the first two weeks of class. All discussions will remain confidential. Such students should also contact Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.

Created by David R. Caprette (caprette@rice.edu), Rice University 30 May 97
Updated 20 May 11
Copyright and Intended Use