Instructor Guide to the NEXUS Physics Problem Collection

This is a collection of more than 600 problems for students in an introductory physics for life-sciences (IPLS) course.

You may freely

  • assign problems to your students via links
  • copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • adapt and build on the material as long as you cite this website as your source and indicate the changes you made

License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The problems here are for students. Therefore, they don't include solutions.

The problems with their solutions will be available soon through the Living Physics Portal(for faculty only). In the meantime, you can find a few problems with solutions in the wiki, marked with EX on each chapter's table of contents (access via the homepage).

Where do the problems come from?

NEXUS/Physics is an on-going University of Maryland project to create an innovative IPLS course. The course and these problems reflect the guidance of national studies from the biology research and medical education communities.

The course and problems focus on 2 major themes:

  • Using math in science: Helping students develop quantitative thinking skills and applying math to physical and biological systems.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking: Helping students learn and apply basic physical principles to understand chemical and biological systems.

How do I use the collection?

Start at the Problems Table of Contents page. It connects to collector pages that give access to all the problems via links to the problem pages on the open web. You can assign problems to your students either by copying the problem (printing a PDF works) or copying and assigning the links. 

This page looks like this:

 Part of the page Toy Models from
the middle column of the
Problems Table of Contents

Left column: Choose by physics topic.

Middle column: Choose by the first theme – using math in science.

Right column: Choose by the second theme – interdisciplinary thinking.

If you start from a link in the middle or right column, you will see that the problems on the page you get to (all related to the specific skill or other discipline) are organized not only by subcategories of the skill or discipline but also by physics topic. For example, here is part of the page on toy models.



When and why should I choose from the middle column?

Math in science is very different from the math your students learned to use in their math classes. To help them develop the math skills that scientists need, we have problems for you to give them related to all the physics topics. 

By giving these skill-development problems throughout the course, you can help your students develop and strength these skills – and help them see how relevant they are to so many areas of physics.

Think of the relationship between these math-in-science skills and physics topics like the warp and weft of a woven cloth as shown in the figure at the right. 


Part of the page Problems with
relevance from the right
column of the Problems
Table of Contents

When and why should I choose from the right column?

You can expect your life-science students to be most interested in problems with authentic biological, medical, or chemical questions and data. We have collected hundreds of such problems. As with the math-in science skills, we have relevant problems for all the physics topics. Here, for example, is the beginning of the page you will get by choosing problems with biological relevance from the right column.

Anything else I should know about the collection?

At the bottom of most of the pages you get to from the Problems Table of Contents, you'll also find some of the problems organized into "special categories." That's just another way of helping you find problems that focus on a specific skill or problem type for the physics topic you chose.

Special skill categories include:

  • dimensional analysis and functional dependence
  • estimation
  • reading the physics in a graph
  • reading the physics in an equation

Specific problem types include:

  • Essay questions – Intended for an exam or discussion. We typically don't give solutions for essay questions because that may depend on how you present the relevant material in your particular class.
  • Extended problems – Intended for recitation, discussion, or long homework. Again, these typically don't come with a solution because the point is to have students in a recitation session focus on the process not on the answer.
  • Problem clusters – These are a set of related problems about the same physical situation, focusing on different aspects or representations of the situation. For example, a set might include a qualitative problem, a symbolic problem, and a computational problem. Assigning them in successive weeks helps students learn the value of multiple representations and approaches to a physics problem.
  • Video problems – We are currently redoing all the video-based problems to use a non-commercial video data collection tool so we can include them in the collection. Look for them in the 2021-2022 academic year.

Can these problems be autograded?

Part or all of many of the problems in the collection could be autograded. We are negotiating with commercial vendors to provide an autograding environment for the problem collection. Check the collection at Living Physics Portal to see our progress.

Who can I contact to ask questions or discuss the collection?

For more information, contact

Joe (E. F.) Redish
Professor Emeritus of Physics
University of Maryland

Article 521
Last Modified: December 28, 2021