Physics 4251/8803GM Fall 2014

Fall 2014 MWF 1:05-1:55
Howey L5


Instructor: JC Gumbart
Office: Howey W202
Phone: 404-385-0797
Office Hours (TBD)


This course will introduce how physical concepts can be used to gain insight into the working of biological systems at a molecular level.  The material will pull from all areas of physics, but particularly classical and statistical mechanics, with a bit of EM and QM thrown in.  While the mathematics is not onerous, students should feel comfortable with simple matrix and differential equations as well as plotting and manipulating data.  Finally, no prior knowledge of biology is required – just a desire to learn a different way of thinking about complex systems!


Physical Biology of the Cell by Phillips, Kondev & Theriot, 2nd edition (recommended)


Although attendance is not strictly mandatory, it is expected that you attend every lecture.  This will be considered at the end of the semester when deciding on borderline grades.

  • Homework (50%): Approximately 8-10 homework sets with problems involving visualization and analysis of biological structures with the program VMD as well as calculations using equations derived in class.
  • Midterm (in-class, 20%): The test will be comprehensive over the material covered up to this point.
  • Presentation (15%): The ability to critically read and digest the scientific literature is critical to being a scientist.  Therefore, each student will select a published paper, approved by me, related to a particular biophysical question or system and present it to the class at the end of the semester.  Key elements I will be looking for include a summarization of the question to be addressed, the methodology used, the results obtained, and whether the results actually support the conclusions drawn.  I will also expect you to point out any flaws in the study, e.g., lack of controls, inappropriate conclusions, etc.
  • Final (take-home, 10%): The test will focus primarily on material from the second half of the semester.  Although it will be done on your own time, it is expected that you complete it with no outside assistance or discussion whatsoever.
  • Seminars (5%): During the semester, you must attend two biology-related seminars on campus and submit a brief report on each.  You can increase your course grade by 1% by attending and reporting on additional seminars, up to a maximum of 3%.