Curricular Unit: Life Science

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A photograph of a single tree in a field. Transposed over the top of the image, huge hands are cupping the tree on each side.
Students explore how life science relates to engineering
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This unit covers the processes of photosynthesis, extinction, biomimicry and bioremediation. In the first lesson on photosynthesis, students learn how engineers use the natural process of photosynthesis as an exemplary model of a complex yet efficient process for converting solar energy to chemical energy or distributing water throughout a system. In the next lesson on species extinction, students learn that it is happening at an alarming rate. Students discover that the destruction of habitat is the main reason many species are threatened and how engineers are trying to stop this habitat destruction. The third lesson introduces students to the idea of biomimicry—or looking to nature for engineering ideas. And, in the fourth and final lesson, students learn about a specialty branch of engineering called bioremediation—the use of living organisms to aid in the clean up of pollutant spills.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

In today's world, engineers are challenged to design energy-efficient systems for heating buildings and creating fuel-efficient vehicles. The photosynthetic process serves as an excellent model for engineers when imagining highly efficient engineering designs—they study it to aid in their creations.

Engineers can prevent extinction by developing ways to preserve diverse biological habitats. Through their passion for protecting the environment and their use of the engineering design process, engineers have developed creative solutions, such as materials that mimic the qualities of wood to be used instead of rainforest timber, a way to lessen the harmful effects starfish have on coral reef, and ways to lesson global warming, which adversely affects coral reef.

We know that engineers design products that are essential to our health, happiness and safety. To meet these human needs, engineers often look to nature for examples of efficient design solutions and inspiration for creative and elegant design ideas. This approach, called biomimicry, is becoming a commonly used practice throughout the engineering world to aid in the creation of innovative engineering designs.

Bioremediation is a specialtly of the environmental engineering field. It is a commonly used practice that takes advantage living organisms to help rid our environment of toxic or harmful pollutants.

The field of engineering is truly connected to the life sciences and engineers are engaged in many life processes that aid our well being, as these many intriguing examples show.

More Curriculum Like This

Extinction Prevention via Engineering

In this lesson, students are asked to consider why extinction is a problem that we should concern us. They are taught that destruction of habitat is the main reason many species are threatened. The lesson explores ways that engineers can help save endangered species.

Clean It Up!

Students learn about a special branch of engineering called bioremediation, which is the use of living organisms to aid in the clean-up of pollutant spills. Students learn all about bioremediation and see examples of its importance. In the associated activity, students conduct an experiment and see ...

Middle School Lesson
Planting Thoughts

Students gain an understanding of the parts of a plant, plant types and how they produce their own food from sunlight through photosynthesis. They learn how plants play an important part in maintaining a balanced environment in which the living organisms of the Earth survive. This lesson is part of ...

Elementary Lesson
Biomimicry and Sustainable Design: Nature as Engineering Marvel

Students are introduced to the concepts of biomimicry and sustainable design. As students focus on applying the ecological principles of the previous lessons to the future design of our human-centered world, they also learn that often our practices are incapable of replicating the precision in which...

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Unit Schedule


See individual lessons and activities.


© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


This digital library content was developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program in the College of Engineering and Applied Science under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: March 11, 2018