Friday, January 15, 2010


The TeXbook,
by Donald Knuth.
Russ Hobbie and I wrote the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology using TeX, the typesetting program developed by Donald Knuth. Well, not really. We actually used LaTeX, a document markup language based on TeX. To be honest, “we” didn’t even use LaTeX: Russ did all the typesetting with LaTeX while I merely read pdf files and sent back comments and suggestions.

TeX is particularly well suited for writing equations, of which there are many in Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. I used TeX in graduate school, while working in John Wikswo’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University. This was back in the days before LaTeX was invented, and writing equations in TeX was a bit like programming in machine language. I remember sitting at my desk with Knuth’s TeXbook (blue, spiral bound, and delightful), worrying about arcane details of typesetting some complicated expression. At that time, TeX was new and unique. When I first arrived at Vanderbilt in 1982, Wikswo’s version of TeX did not even have a WYSIWYG editor, and our lab did not have a laser printer, so I would make a few changes in the TeX document and then run down the hall to the computer center to inspect my printout. As you can imagine, after several iterations of this process the novelty of TeX wore off. But, oh, did our papers look good when we shipped them out to the journal (and, yes, we did mail paper copies; no electronic submission back then). Often, I thought our version looked better than what was published. By the way, Donald Knuth is a fascinating man. Check out his website at He pays $2.56 to readers who find an error in his books (according to Knuth, 256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar). Russ Hobbie used to pay a quarter for errors, and all I give is a few lousy extra credit points to my students.

I must confess, now-a-days I use the equation editor in Microsoft Word for writing equations. Word’s output doesn’t look as nice as TeX’s, but I find it easier to use. The solution manual for the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology is written entirely using Word (email Russ or me for a copy), and so is the errata. But I did reacquaint myself with TeX when writing my Scholarpedia article about the bidomain model. Both Wikipedia and Scholarpedia use some sort of TeX hybrid for equations.

Listen to Donald Knuth describe his work.


  1. Actually, I did not use LaTeX directly. Even though I am a Mac person I used MacKichan Software's Scientific Workplace, which gave me a nice WSYWIG solution. I ran it on my Mac under Virtual PC. I can now use Windows directly on my Mac, and it is even faster.

  2. Hello, could you please send me the solution manual for the 4th edition please, here is my e-mail:
    I'd really appreciate it, thank you, best regards.

    1. Please email Russ Hobbie or me. We only send out the solution manual to instructors.