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NST IA Physiology of Organisms (PoO)

Physiology of Organisms is the first-year physiology course for natural science students. Taking a comparative physiological focus, PoO combines lectures from PDN, Plant Sciences and Zoology. Many Colleges have two PoO supervisors, representing the 'animal' and 'plant' side of the course, but a few use the same supervisor to cover all the lectures. The plant physiology is taught as a block in the last six weeks of the Lent term. As well as the lecture material, PoO supervisors are expected to cover the experimental physiology practical classes which the students take as part of this course; there is a practical paper set as part of the June exam. If you wish to attend a practical class to get a better feel for what it is all about, please contact Dr Matt Mason (

The PoO Moodle site describes the lectures in this course and holds all the course material. It is designed primarily for those students enrolled on the course but it also includes a Moodle 'book' for PoO supervisors, which gives advice and guidance about supervising in general, as well as hints and tips specific to Physiology of Organisms supervisions. Please note that this "Information for Supervisors" section should be visible on the main PoO title page, but it is not visible to students. If you cannot see it, it may be that you are not enrolled as a supervisor: please contact Mel Quy ( and ask her to put you on the list and give you access.

We also have an open-access Physiology of Organisms website, designed to give basic information for those outside Cambridge, for example potential applicants or new arrivals.

When advising new students about this course, Directors of Studies should be aware that there is (still) a timetable conflict between the Physiology of Organisms practical classes and the IA Materials lectures. The first hour of the PoO practicals from 12-1 PM represents a debrief session, discussing the results from the last practical and introducing the new one. Students reading Materials have to miss these debrief sessions because of their lectures. Although this situation is not ideal, students can catch up by reading the debrief sheets provided on-line and copying up notes made by other students in the session itself. They should come at 2 PM to the Experimental Laboratory for the practical part of the class.

We have noticed that several Colleges have in the past arranged supervisions during scheduled PoO practical class times (12-1 and 2-5 PM Wednesdays and Fridays, every two weeks in the Michaelmas term). Several students were having to leave the classes before finishing their practicals in order to attend their supervisions. Others were missing practical classes because of tutorial or DoS meetings. The practical classes are an essential part of the Physiology course, and an area that many students struggle with: we would be grateful if Directors of Studies would please make sure that their Colleges do not present the students with these timetabling conflicts!

Please have a look at the supervising physiology in Cambridge page, written to give some general tips for new supervisors teaching general physiology courses, but as mentioned above, there is a subject-specific supervision page on the PoO Moodle website.

New information for the 2018-19 course

1) Course Organisation has passed to the Department of Zoology. The new course organiser is Dr Walter Federle (

2) The cardiovascular lectures (Prof. Giussani) will be given before the muscle lectures (Dr Schwiening) for this year only, to accommodate other commitments.

3) Dr Matthew Mason will be giving Dr Murray's Digestion lectures, for one year only while Dr Murray is on sabbatical. These will be presented in a "flipped classroom" style. The idea is that the students will be asked to read the handout in advance, and in the lecture itself we will build on this material in a more interactive way. This may involve group-work, asking questions of the audience and going through how to answer a particular essay question on this topic. Any other suggestions gratefully received! We recognise that some aspects of this new style of teaching will be similar to what happens in supervisions, but we hope that there will still be plenty of scope for supervisors to add value to the course.

4) Dr Christof Schwiening will be giving Dr. Murray's Metabolism lectures, again for one year only.

5) Dr Elisa Galliano will be taking over Prof. Roger Hardie's Sensory Biology lectures, in perpetuity. The current plan is for this course to cover less material and spend more time on vision and comparative sensory biology (plants and animals).

6) Dr Walter Federle is expected to return to his Comparative Physiology lectures in the Easter term.

7) The Plant Pathology and Microbiology course may or may not be changing: it is currently under review with Plant Sciences.

8) The Membrane Electrophysiology practical has changed slightly: in the first experiment, the students will be changing the reference rather than test solutions, and will therefore expect negative membrane potential values. This will make the results appear closer to a "real cell".