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A Short Overview of Laurence Loewe's Teaching

Teaching Interests

My teaching interests are mostly in evolutionary genetics, molecular systems biology, and evolutionary systems biology. I also enjoy teaching the modeling and programming skills needed to advance research in those areas. In Spring 2016, I am teaching an especially innovative course for the first time. It is part of my effort to find a robust semantics for computational biology and implement it in the Evolvix programming language. See below for more.


In my lectures, I try to have something for everyone. I start by providing a basic frame that is easy enough for most students to understand, and then I add extras for students who are especially interested and would like to explore course topics in more detail.


In-Depth Research Seminar on Foundations for Computational Biology (Spring 2016)

This two-credit research seminar aims to combine skills from multiple disciplines in order to improve the usability of Evolvix, the first general programming language designed by biologists for biologists. Working at the intersection of biology, programming, and English, we will discuss topics relevant to programming and genetics while debating how we can best convey complex concepts in a simple, intuitive language. Since this seminar ideally draws on expertise from the humanities, social sciences, sciences, math, and beyond to discuss trans-disciplinary topics, it will not be your typical science course!


This need for diversity follows directly from our task’s complexity. While it may be difficult to develop code that all computers can interpret the same, it is much harder to find meaningful words and syntax that most humans will agree on. While scientists are vital for determining how Evolvix can help express biological concepts and how experts in their fields interpret words, they still need assistance from:

  • those who usually have a much better grasp of the English language and understand people better (social sciences and humanities),
  • those who understand how code interacts with computers and who can construct compilers (computer sciences),
  • those who are familiar with the theories and abstractions that programming languages depend on (math and stats),
  • and many others.... 

In short, any one of us might only contribute a small part to the development of a general programming language, but if we combine our fragmented insights, we stand a chance to create something that is easy to learn, easy to use, and still accurate. Who knows, maybe you will even find a few keywords that eventually make it into Evolvix.


The course structure centers on in-depth debates that explore diverse abstract topics related to programming, biology, English, and much more. While there are no written exams, there are small writing assignments, a larger writing project, and frequent work with feedback forms, among other responsibilities.  Above all, eager participation and a strong interest in trans-disciplinary dialogue will be essential. See syllabus for more.


There are no formal prerequisites for this course, and you do not need instructor’s consent (despite the erroneous criteria listed in the official course catalogue for Spring 2016). We simply ask you to be thorough, reliable, and interested in discussing the semantics and syntax of a new general programming language alongside peers in distant fields. All students will be beginners for some or most of our subject matter, so expect to traverse uncertain ground as you participate – this will be a common experience shared by all in the class, including the instructor. If you like learning about and discussing programming, biology, and/or language, this is the course for you, regardless of your experience level. 


 FoundCompBio Flyer (GIF), Spring 2016 


Spring 2016: Genetics 677-22: In-Depth Research Seminar on Foundations for Computational Biology 

2 Credits, Class Sessions: Mon 3:30-5:25pm (Spring 2016 Syllabus


The Evolutionary Systems Biology Course (Fall 2016)

As the first three-credit class in evolutionary systems biology, the EvoSysBio course will help you learn how to build models touching on topics that bridge systems biology, evolutionary biology, and modeling.  


But this course is not just about a special intersection of fields; it's tailored to fit your needs as aspiring scientists. You can BYOMQ (Bring Your Own Modeling Question) from any area in biology or else choose from some pre-selected modeling questions. Along with your interdisciplinary group members, you will build and refine computational models that appeal to your scientific interests.


The only prerequisites are an interest in modeling, simulation, and biology -- nothing else! Students from any Bio, Chem, Phys, Stats, Math, or Engineering discipline are welcome at any level. This course is ideal for beginners interested in modeling some small part of biology, whether you are a graduate student looking to bring a new tool back to your home discipline or you are an undergraduate just starting to explore a major in the sciences. You will be grouped appropriately to maximize hands-on learning.


EvoSysBio Flyer (PNG), Fall 2016 


For more details on how to register, please visit the course website at


Fall 2016: Genetics 677-11: Evolutionary Systems Biology 

3 Credits, Lectures: Tue 3:30-4:45pm, Lab: Thur 3:30-5:30pm (Fall 2016 Syllabus)


History of the EvoSysBio Course:

Fall 2015: Genetics 677-11: Evolutionary Systems Biology 

3 Credits, Lectures: Tue 1-2:15pm, Lab: Thur: 1-2:15pm; used Evolvix 0.3.1-RC1 (Fall 2015 Syllabus)

Fall 2014: Genetics 677-11: Evolutionary Systems Biology

3 Credits, Lectures: Tue 1-2:15pm, Lab: Thur 1-2:15pm; used Evolvix 0.3.0

Fall 2013: Genetics 677-11: Evolutionary Systems Biology

3 Credits, Lectures: Tue 9:30-10:45am, Lab: Thur 9:30-10:45am; used Evolvix 0.1.6


Other Teaching

At UW-Madison:


At University of Edinburgh: 

In 2006/2007 I covered the teaching duties of Prof. Nick Barton (bookhomepage) as a Lecturer in Evolutionary Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. I taught selected portions in the following courses:

  • Foundations of evolution 
    (4x2h, MSc in Evolution of Language and Cognition)
  • Introduction to population genetics
    (2x1h, MSc Quantitative Genetics & Genome Analysis)
  • Evolution of sex & breeding systems (course website)
    (2x2h + course organization, 4th year honours students)
  • Major transitions in evolution
    (2x2h, Animal Evolution, 4th year honours students))
  • Speciation
    (2x1h lectures + tutorials, Ecological Genetics, 3rd year biology students)
  • Evolution honours tutorials
    (2x1h, advanced topics, 4th year honours students)
  • Evolutionary genetics module (course website)
    (4x2h lectures + practicals + course organization, MSc in Quantitative Genetics & Genome Analysis)