Because of the diversity of curricula at the schools participating in the Environmental Science Consortium, we are providing a description of the knowledge we hope students will have, rather than specific course requirements. We have grouped these under three categories: Biological Science, Chemistry and Mathematics. Students who are deficient in a given area may still qualify for entrance in the program at the discretion of the on-campus advisor and selection committee.

Biological ScienceChemistryMathematicsFootnotes

Biological Science 1

One year of introductory college biology or equivalent which should cover the types of issues outlined below at the level covered in a basic text. Cell structure and function. What organelles are present in eucaryotic cells? What is the purpose of these organelles? What is the structure of the cell membrane? Which organisms have cell walls? How do materials move in and out of cells (diffusion, osmosis, active transport). How do cells communicate?

Fundamentals of genetics, chromosomes and DNA - how DNA replicates and how it codes for proteins. What is the role of messenger, transfer and ribosomal RNA in cells. What is the difference between a genotype and phenotype. Basics of cell growth and division (mitosis, meiosis) and the phases of the cell cycle (G1, S, G2, M).

Rudiments of taxonomic classification: the categories of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus and Species. What are the 5 kingdoms 2 (monera, protista, fungi, plants and animals) and the major characteristics which distinguish them? What are the principle phyla in the animal kingdom (chordates, arthropods, echinoderms, annelids, cnidarians, etc.); what are the basic groups of plants, (chlorophytes, rhodophytes, phaeophytes, gymnosperms, angiosperms, etc.)? Basic understanding of the physiology of autotrophic and heterotrophic organisms. The role of enzymes in biochemical processes. Rudimentary knowledge of the biochemistry of photosynthesis, biosynthesis and catabolism (e.g., the Z scheme, dark reactions and Krebs Cycle).

Elementary whole plant anatomy and physiology. What are xylem, phloem, stomata; what are the basic mechanisms of gas exchange and water transport within plants: capillary action and transpiration. Some exposure to evolutionary and ecological principles. The theory of natural selection, the idea of the ecological niche and the importance of competition over evolutionary time. The regulation of populations over contemporary time scales: the difference between density dependent and independent effects. Familiarity with models of logarithmic and logistic population growth would be helpful. The role of competition and predation in regulating populations within communities.


One year of introductory college chemistry or equivalent which should cover the types of issues outlined below at the level comparable to a basic text.

Physical properties (e.g., density) and different states of matter (gas, liquid and solid). The atomic nature of matter.

Behavior of gases: the ideal gas law, partial pressures, diffusion. The mole concept. Solubility of gases (Henry's Law).

Use of the Periodic Table (atomic weight, atomic number). The major classes of elements (noble gases, halogens, alkaline earths, transition metals). Definition of isotopes.

Atomic structure (protons, neutrons, electrons). Definition of shells and orbitals; the Pauli exclusion principle and valency. Different types of chemical bonding (hydrogen bonds, covalent bonds, ionic bonds) and the meaning of electronegativity.

The major types of reactions (e.g., dissolution/precipitation, acids/base, oxidation/reduction). The meaning of pH.

Fundamentals of stoichiometry and balancing chemical equations including oxidation-reduction reactions.

The first and second Laws of Thermodynamics. The concepts of enthalpy (H), endothermic and exothermic reactions, entropy and free energy (G), and bond energy.

Chemical kinetics, reaction rates and the idea of a rate limiting step. Activation energy.

Chemical equilibrium and equilibrium constants (K).

Radioactivity and radioactive decay (kinetics and half-life).

What distinguishes an organic from an inorganic compound.


One year of introductory college calculus or equivalent which should cover the material outlined below at a level comparable to a basic text.

Associative, commutative and distributive laws.

Familiarity with exponents and logarithms, including the natural log.

Basic algebra including the inequalities and the solutions to systems of 2 or 3 linear equations.

Basic trigonometry, familiarity with radians and the functions of sine, cosine, etc. Graphs of trigonometric functions (e.g., the sine curve can be used to approximate the pattern of solar insolation over a year).

Functions and functional notation (e.g., the meaning of the slope and y intercept of the linear function Y = mX + b). Quadratic equations (e.g., the parabola and hyperbola).

The concept of limits and the derivative. Students should have been exposed to rules for taking the derivative (e.g., of a constant, a variable raised to a power, the product of a variable and a constant), though they need not be facile at taking derivatives. Students should also know the meaning of second and higher order derivatives.

The concept of the integral and methods of integration (again, students need not be facile at doing integrations). The idea of computing the integral numerically (e.g., the Euler method).

What a differential equation is (not necessarily how to solve it).



1) Students majoring in another discipline, e.g., political science, geology, chemistry, math or engineering, who are interested in environmental sciences may be less familiar with some of these concepts, but should have had some exposure to basic biology equivalent to at least a high school level. Such students should familiarize themselves with the major groups of plants and animals and the physiology of metabolic processes and photosynthesis. We also expect these students will have the equivalent of one year of basic courses in their major.

2) Here, as an example, we use the 5 Kingdom classification initially set forth by R.H. Whittaker and taught in Hopson and Wessells (1989) Biology. Other classification schemes are possible (e.g., Margulis and Schwartz, 1982 put the chlorophytes, rhodophytes and other algae in the Protista; more recently, techniques of molecular genetics have been used to differentiate between the "domains" Archaea, bacteria and Eukarya). Regardless of the heirarchy employed, it is important that students have some knowledge of the nature and general diversity of extant life forms.

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