Friday, February 29, 2008

Even More from the Preface

From the preface of the 3rd edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, written by Russ Hobbie:

"Because the book is intended primarily for students who have taken only one year of physics, I have tried to adhere to the following principles in writing it:

1. Calculus is used without apology...

2. The reader is assumed to have taken physics and to know the basic vocabulary...

3. I have not intentionally left out steps in most derivations....

4. Each subject is approached in as simple a fashion as possible..."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Teaching Biological Physics

The March 2005 issue of the magazine Physics Today contains an article by Goldstein, Nelson and Powers about "Teaching Biological Physics". Many of the ideas they champion apply to classes taught from the 4th Edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Goldstein et al. write:

"Over the past few years, people trained in physics and working in physics departments have taken an unprecedented interest in biological problems. A host of new experimental and theoretical techniques has opened up the quantitative study of systems ranging from single molecules to networks of simple agents performing complex collective tasks. Many departments have begun aggressive programs to hire faculty into the emerging field of biological physics. Engineering departments, too, are investing in the interface of the life and physical sciences, both in bioengineering and in related areas such as chemical engineering, solid mechanics, and materials.

Not surprisingly, the new faculty members, like their colleagues, are interested in teaching subjects that excite them. Meanwhile, physical-science students are beginning to demand courses relevant to the life sciences. And high-level reports such as the National Research Council's Bio2010 have emerged to stress the importance of quantitative, physics-based thinking for future life scientists..."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mathematical Handbooks

The 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology assumes mathematical knowledge through calculus. Some of our readers with a weak math background may wonder where they can look to brush up on long-forgotten facts and formulas. The obvious starting place is the textbook you learned your calculus from. (I hope you are not the type of person who sells their textbooks back to the book store at the end of the semester.) Another place is the appendices in our book, which review many mathematical topics. For those who may need a bit more help, I have the following advice.

If you want an inexpensive, light-weight, easy-to-use reference, I suggest
Schaum's Outline: Mathematical Handbook of Formulas and Tables, 2nd Edition, by Murray Spiegel and John Liu. I use it every day, and it has most of the mathematical information you'll ever need. The handbook has a large table of integrals, and covers trigonometric and hyperbolic functions, series expansions, Laplace transforms, Fourier analysis, Bessel functions, and Legendre polynomials. The one thing the handbook lacks is information on vector calculus in spherical and cylindrical coordinates. I recommend xeroxing Table 1 from Appendix L of our book and taping it to the inside cover of your Schuam's Outline.

For those occasions when I need more extensive information, I turn to the
Handbook of Mathematical Functions: with Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables, by Abramowitz and Stegun (cited on page 201 of our book). This classic covers many of the same topics as does Schuam's outline, but in much more detail. [Note: after posting this blog entry, my graduate student told me that you can download Abramowitz and Stegun online. Look at Apparently because this book was prepared by employees of the US government, there is no copyright issue to prevent downloading.]

When you really need an integral but can't find it anywhere else, I suggest
Table of Integrals, Series, and Products, Seventh Edition by Gradshteyn and Ryzhik. If you can't find the integral there, you probably can't find it anywhere. I have never used the new edition with the CD ROM, but the hardback copy I consult for my most difficult integrals is invaluable. I suggest letting the library buy this one, since you will probably only need it occasionally.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Teaching Medical Physics

In the journal Physics Education (41:301-306, 2006) is an article by Gibson, Cook, and Newing about "Teaching Medical Physics". They write

"Medical Physics provides immediate and accessible examples that can assist in the teaching of a range of science subjects. To help teachers, we have produced a teaching pack that will be sent to all UK secondary schools in June 2006 and will be available from Here we discuss the advantages of teaching using applications drawn from Medical Physics, careers in Medical Physics, and some sources of other Medical Physics-related teaching resources."

Their website contains many excellent color pictures and videos that could be used to augment our static, black & white 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. They aim for a lower level and younger audience and than we do in our book, but their power-point presentations might be useful supplementary aids when introducing some of the topics covered in our text.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The American Journal of Physics

What is my favorite physics journal? Undoubtedly it is the American Journal of Physics. Russ Hobbie and I cite many AJP papers in the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. In fact, Russ has published over a dozen items in that most wonderful of journals. (I'm still looking for an opportunity to publish something there.) What is my favorite AJP paper of all time? That would be Edward Purcell's "Life at Low Reynolds Number" (vol. 45, pp. 3-11, 1977). I hand out copies of this paper to my students whenever I teach chapter 1 of our book, where we discuss the Reynolds Number and its role in biology and medicine.