Interlude 0 - The NEXUS/Physics idea

We designed this introductory physics class and associated laboratories to be are directly relevant for biology majors, pre-meds, and other pre-health-care professionals.  We have settled on topics that are somewhat different from what other intro physics classes teach, and we use modern pedagogy in teaching these topics.  (However, note that students who took this class still did very well on a standard set of physics multiple choice questions, better on average than students in traditional physics classes.)

Physicists tend to be convinced that physics is important in biology.  You may hear a statement like the following from a physics professor:

"Physics is important for biology since what we do in physics is try to understand the rules that govern how everything works.  Since biological organisms are part of 'everything', they are constrained by the rules of physics.  When you get to more advanced bio classes where you try to make sense of the mechanism of how things work, you’ll find the physics you've learned will be crucial."

However, not many biologists or doctors are convinced about the crucial importance of physics for understanding living systems. Many of them do not have particularly fond memories of a high-school physics course.  A key problem is that traditional physics courses taken by biologists are typically not designed particularly for biologists. Often they are “cut down” from courses designed for mechanical and electrical engineers. The set of physics topics in a traditional introductory physics course is not what is most relevant for future biologists. What makes matters worse is that the contexts in which the physics topics are introduced and reviewed is very different from the context of a living system: A frictionless cart sliding on a surface (a quintessential example of intro physics that we also will not avoid entirely) may be a good starting point for a mechanical engineer to consider cars with low-friction wheels.  But how do you get from the physics of such a simple system to the physics of a vesicle transported around inside a cell via myosin motor proteins? This question is never answered in traditional physics classes, but we will tackle it by covering additional physics relevant in this context (fluid drag, Brownian motion) in this class. 

Article 555
Last Modified: March 7, 2019