by Andre on 11 March 2005
There’s a good article in this month’s Physics Today called Teaching Biological Physics (a subscription is required for the article through Physics Today, but a free preprint is available here). If you’re asking yourself why a course in biological physics is anything even remotely new since, after all, there are entire departments already devoted to physiology and/or biophysics at most research universities you’re probably not alone, but if that’s the case, I would recommend reading the article.
This is one of many concerns that the authors address in the article: “Many of the courses in other departments turn out to be very different from what we in physics think of as physics education.” They go on to explain “we’d like our students to be able to face a problem they have never seen, pull the right quantitative tool out of their bag, and use it to solve the problem.” A great goal indeed for a one-semester undergraduate course. Although that sounds ambitious, having used the text written by Phil Nelson (one of the authors of the article) for a course on biological physics, I think that it’s not totally unreasonable. The book does a very good job of building a surprising array of quantitative tools and broadly applicable concepts from very basic principles. Some comments on the book are available from the publisher’s website.