MSci Medical Physiology

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Sensory Systems

Unit code BIOL21341
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Sensory Systems provides an understanding of how we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. You will gain an understanding of the mechanisms that allow us to receive sensory information and how it is processed by the relevant areas of the brain.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Excitable Cells: the Foundations of Neuroscience BIOL10832 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL21341 Pre- & Co-requisites are BIOL10832


This course aims to explain:

  • how external stimuli impact upon central neural pathways to give rise to perception
  • the nature and extent of sensory systems from periphery to CNS, with emphasis on the higher mammalian systems, but including appropriate comparative comparisons.
  • basic elements of the cognitive processes involved in sensory interpretation and reaction.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  • comprehend the ability of nervous systems to access, integrate and interpret sensory information
  • understand the common plan of sensory systems across species, as models for neuroscience research
  • look beyond 'sense' to cognition.


  1. Introduction to comparative sensory physiology - What is a sense? How do we, and other creatures, interact with a physical reality?
  2. Chemo-reception - A "taste" of science.
  3. Chemo-reception - Olfaction, the "world" of scent
  4. The Eye - window on the soul? - Capturing light - in mammals and others.
  5. Retina - "First Contact" with the central nervous system - how to convert light to brain messages.
  6. The vision we don't "see" - Projection of information through secondary visual pathways; circadian rhythms
  7. Comparative Colour Vision - "The peacock's tail and other colourful facts"
  8. Thalamus - gateway to cortex? - Passive gateway or active amplifier? To sleep, perchance... to "attend".
  9. The Primary Visual Cortex - The "beginning" of cortical processing - the human "condition".
  10. "To V2 and Beyond!" - how does cortex communicate information - hierarchy or "cloud"?
  11. Higher Visual Cortices - ....when things go wrong - amblyopia, blindsight, neglect and other short stories...
  12. Feed-back Session! The chance to work through exam question/answers
  13. From ear to hear - What is sound? Sound in the air; "sound" for other animals
  14. Cochlea - transduction, amplification and more - Hair cells, fluid mechanics and the "I-pod" generation!
  15. From hearing to speaking - Central "interpretation" of sounds - and language, from bats to whales, and us.
  16. Mechanoreceptors - The basic unit of the somatic sense
  17. Mechanoreceptors - Understanding mechanotransduction - "feeling" your way....
  18. Somatosensory Pathways and the Somatosensory Cortex - From skin to the spinal cord and higher - through thalamus to cortex.
  19. Whiskers and Barrels - Specialisation in somatosensation - the rodent whisker system
  20. Pain - The "sense" of nociception and "feeling of pain".... sense to perception.
  21. Somatosensation: Cognition and decision - Plasticity, Phantom Limbs and other "higher" aspects of somatosenation
  22. Cognition & Sense(s) - Integration of cortical senses.

e-Learning Activity

All lecture material will be offered in advance on Blackboard. An appropriate mini-exam will be provided for ~week 7 and a forum for discussion. "Interesting examples" of non-lecture materials, designed to highlight aspects of the lecture-based material, will be provided.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Encourage the use of Blackboards discussion group for student-to-student communication. There is also a student led discussion group.
Oral communication
Students are reminded (repeatedly) to ask questions during or after lectures, and one session is devoted to discussion of examination questions and how best to answer them.
Looking at research, as presented in the lecture course; with insight into research methods etc.
Written communication
Strongly encourage the use of Blackboards discussion group.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

2 on-line MCQ tests (5% each), in weeks ~7 and 11, and a  written examination (90%) 

Feedback methods

All students are given the Unit Coordinator’s email address for questions or comment, as well as being encouraged to contact lecturing staff immediately following the lecture, or later by email or in the Blackboard discussion forum. Mid-sessional formative assessment / feedback. Post-exam guidance.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.3
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.7

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kenneth Grieve Unit coordinator

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