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Subject Summary: Part IB Physiology

This course allows students to study systems physiology in detail and concentrates on mammals, in particular humans. The course builds from knowledge of function at the cellular level to the complex operation of major body systems at the level of the whole organism. About 70% of the course is devoted to the study of the major body systems. The remaining 30% takes an integrated approach to examine how these systems respond to various challenges from the everyday to the extreme. 

In the first term, the course begins with an exploration of the cardiovascular system, respiratory function, the endocrine system, the kidney and body fluid homeostasis. The first part of the second term involves the study of reproductive physiology, starting with the male and female reproductive systems and following events from conception through implantation and embryonic development to parturition, and examining fetal, maternal, and neonatal physiology on the way. The second half of the second term looks at digestion, absorption, nutrition and body weight regulation. In the Easter term we examine the response of the body to exercise, including the effects of training. In the third term we also look at the responses of the body to extreme conditions presented by life in the Arctic and in the desert, at high altitude and upon exposure to microgravity during space flight. 

Practical work is largely designed to allow students to study their own physiology. Examples include examining the effects of exercise on cardiac output and oxygen consumption, the effects of eating chocolate on blood glucose and respiratory quotient, and the pharmacological effects of drugs on isolated intestinal muscle. You will also be introduced to the principles of histology, including working with some of the latest, computer-based packages. Two practical classes in the second term are given over to the assessment of fitness and the effects of training in selected individuals. 

Part IB Physiology builds on topics introduced in Part IA Physiology of Organisms, but it is not essential to have taken this course to read Part IB Physiology. As well as being interesting in its own right (even to predominantly physical scientists), Physiology is well suited to accompany many other Part IB courses in the life sciences, including Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Experimental Psychology, Neurobiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology.

Programme Specification: Part IB Physiology

This course is taught by the Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience.


  1. To provide a course of study in mammalian, principally human, systems physiology, building on knowledge of basic physiological principles established in the Part IA Physiology of Organisms course;
  2. to expand on some areas touched on in 1A Physiology of Organisms and to introduce new and more complex physiological functions;
  3. to develop further practical biological skills introduced in 1A Physiology of Organisms;
  4. to prepare students for a number of Part II Natural Science courses, principally Physiology, Development & Neuroscience, but also Pharmacology, Pathology and Zoology, among others.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of mammalian physiology;
  2. understand the functions of important physiological systems including the cardio-respiratory, renal, reproductive and metabolic systems;
  3. understand how these separate systems interact to yield integrated physiological responses to challenges such as exercise, fasting and ascent to high altitude, and how they can sometimes fail;
  4. be able to perform, analyse and report on experiments and observations in physiology;
  5. be able to recognise and identify principal tissue structures;

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, supervisions, practical classes and extension sessions.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • an unseen written examination based on the content of the lecture course (for aims 1-2 and learning outcomes 1-4)
  • an unseen written examination based on practical work conducted throughout the year including the interpretation and identification of images taken from slides, micrographs and experimental records (for aims 1 & 3 and learning outcomes 4-5).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None

Recommended: NST Part IA Physiology of Organisms, NST Part IA Biology of Cells, A Levels in Biology, Chemistry, and/or Physics.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.