History: The MBL Physiology Course was founded by Jacques Loeb in 1892 and is one of the oldest continually running biology courses in the world. This intensive five-week laboratory course has educated generations of leading biologists and fostered groundbreaking biological discoveries, including the Nobel prize-winning discovery of cyclin B.

As physiology has evolved to embrace modern microscopy and computational methods and incorporate the latest biological techniques, so has the Physiology Course. Today, the course is at the forefront of new tools—molecular, computational, biophysical—as it prepares students to tackle emerging biological questions. To teach this modern approach to research, faculty from the biological sciences and physical sciences, including engineering and computational sciences, come together each summer with an equally diverse set of students to create a unique curiosity-driven training environment that mixes cell biology, biophysics, and computational methods in biology.

What to expect: The Physiology Course is designed to promote learning by doing, with an emphasis on stimulating experimental creativity and applying interdisciplinary approaches to fundamental biological problems. The course is a sleep-away summer camp for scientists: expect to do a lot of science, make new  friends, and also have lots of fun! 

After a one-week crash course that teaches basic concepts and skills, students participate in a series of research rotations (each two weeks) focused on active research problems brought by the course faculty using state-of-the art microscopy and laboratory techniques in a highly collaborative setting. Since the rotations focus on unanswered questions rather than demonstration experiments, students in the course will have the opportunity to make new discoveries as part of the learning experience. Students with biological backgrounds will leave the course with a new understanding of cutting-edge biological techniques, hands-on experience with advanced microscopy and scientific equipment, and the ability to computationally analyze data. Students with engineering/physical/computational science backgrounds will leave able to culture cells, carry out independent experiments, discuss biological concepts, and contribute their expertise to answer modern cell biological questions.

Recent student-designed projects include: characterizing Stentor’s regeneration after single-cell surgery, imaging and inducing molecular condensates in living cells, analyzing how macrophages make decisions about what to phagocytose, inducing mating behavior in choanoflagellates with calcium signaling, characterizing filament elongation of actins from archaea and bacteria, exploring how light activates multicellular contractility in animal-like protists, and discovering that viral proteins hijack the host actin cytoskeleton to trigger cell fusion events.

Daily schedule: Each morning begins at 9AM with an invited speaker talking about their cutting-edge research, followed by a student-only discussion with the speaker. Students then go to lab to plan experiments for the day with the course faculty and teaching assistants. During lunch, there’s typically time for students to go to the beach, exercise, socialize, practice for the annual softball game, or do laundry; we also have a few afternoon field trips, like collecting Stentor from a local pond or a boat trip on MBL’s research vessel, Gemma. Afternoons and after-dinner are dedicated to data collection and analysis, with ample guidance from faculty and teaching assistants. Social hour at 10 PM is often punctuated by karaoke or time spent brainstorming around the whiteboard. The microscopes are often humming late into the night. It’s a fun and energizing environment.

Lectures and visiting scholars: To inspire Physiology students and provide them with a sense of the history and future of cell biology, the Physiology Course also brings in eminent scientists to the MBL as Visiting Scholars. Visiting Scholars deliver one or more lectures to the community, run workshops, advise on experiments, and participate in the dynamic intellectual and social aspects of the course.

Join us! Graduate students, post-docs, select junior faculty (particularly those aiming to change or expand fields) and others with equivalent levels of experience are encouraged to apply. The typical class includes scientists with backgrounds in everything from the biological sciences to engineering, physics, and data science. Admission to MBL courses is “need-blind”—funding will be found for you if you’re accepted to the course. We are committed to recruiting underrepresented minorities and women to both the student body and faculty. Please apply!

I cannot stress enough how life changing my experience at MBL Phys was this past summer. This course is an absolute must for literally everyone.

Joseph Cirilo, Physiology 2021

The MBL Physiology course broadened my scientific horizons and introduced me to so many people who became collaborators and friends. I am deeply grateful for the experience, and continue to incorporate ideas and approaches learned during the Physiology course in my research.

Rosalie Lawrence, Physiology 2018