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Poster Title: Moving to Equilibrium: Teaching Entropy in the IPLS Class
Abstract: Entropy changes underlie the physics that dominates biological interactions. Indeed, introductory biology courses often begin with the qualities of water important to living systems. However, one idea that is not explicitly addressed in most introductory physics or biology textbooks is dominant contribution of the entropy in driving important biological processes towards equilibrium. From diffusion to the functioning of nerve cells, entropic effects often act to counterbalance deterministic forces such as electrostatic attraction and in so doing, allow for effective molecular signaling. A small group of biology, biophysics and computer science faculty have worked together for the past five years to develop curricular modules (based on SCALEUP pedagogy) that enable students to create models of stochastic and deterministic processes. Our students are first-year engineering and science students in the calculus-based physics course and are not expected to know biology beyond the high-school level. In our class, they learn to reduce biological processes and structures to tractable models that include deterministic processes and simple probabilistic inference. The students test these models in biologically relevant simulations and laboratory experiments. The students are challenged to bridge the gap between statistical parameterization of their data (mean and standard deviation) and simple model-building by inference. This allows the students to quantitatively describe realistic cellular processes such as diffusion, ionic transport, and ligand-receptor binding. Moreover, the students confront "random'' forces and traditional forces in problems, simulations, and laboratory exploration throughout the year-long course. This talk will present a number of these student exercises, with a focus on the hands-on experiments, and will give examples of the tangible material our students work with throughout the two-semester sequence on introductory physics with a bio focus.
Poster Category: Course Content
Poster File: Download the Poster File

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Mark Reeves
George Washington University