Physics of Life

Teaching Animal physiology Physics of life Diversity of life Biophysical field methods

I began teaching Physics of Life in 2011. The basic idea behind the course was for a biologist, like me, to teach physics to biology students. My approach is inspired by, and honors the late Steven Vogel of Duke University, who I got to know while doing a post-doctoral fellowship there in the 1980s.

Steve Vogel's approach to physical biology was to cast physical principles firmly in the context of biological adaptation, Physicists generally do not quite get this dimension of life. For this reason, physicists often have a difficult time conveying the excitement of physics to biology students.

Physics of Life also is where I started doing media production. Much of the course content is in the form of videos that range from me at a desk with a document camera to some highly produced "mini-documentaries." Stroll over to my video page to have a look.

You can view the most recent syllabus here.

Four modules make up Physics of Life:

Module 1. Thermodynamics. Life is fundamentally a phenomenon of mobilizing energy to do order-producing work.

Module 2. Biomechanics. Life operates in a world of forces and structures itself to manage energy and mechanical work.

Module 3. Fluids. Life lives in a fluid environment, either air or water, where viscosity and inertia dominate the energetic transactions of life.

Module 4. Wave phenomena. These are light and sound, one electromagnetic and the other mechanical. Both are governed by fundamental aspects of wave energy, including frequency, amplitude and impedance. Both are also fundamental sources of sensory information.

Metal fish sculpture, Ithaca Commons, Ithaca New York