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Tim McKay's Physics for Life Sciences Course - Brief

Page history last edited by Joe Redish 9 years, 3 months ago

BERG > HHMI Project  > Content 


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1. Physics and life

     1) Introduction to the course: life is physical

     2) Three examples to set the stage 

     3) Differences among the sciences and how you study them

     4) Tools for this course 

     5) The natures of things: scalars and vectors 

     6) Decoupled motion and vector components: relative velocity

     7) Multiplying vectors by vectors: the scalar and vector products

     8) Life’s media: air and water


2. Standing up and staying still: forces, Newton’s laws, and statics

     1) What needs to be explained in the motion of things?

     2) Newton’s first law: motion requires no cause

     3) Newton’s second law: how forces change motion 

     4) Newton’s third law: everything is an interaction

     5) Classifying forces 


3. Forces and structures

     1) An active, non-contact example: gravity 

     2) A richer example: forces in the contact of solids

     3) Keeping track of forces: free body diagrams and how to use them

     4) Transmitting forces: ropes and tension

     5) Quantifying the ability of a force to cause rotation

     6) Making do with small forces: simple machines as force magnifiers


4. Understanding staying put: applying conditions for equilibrium

     1) Two conditions for equilibrium

     2) Your body as a structure

     3) The inadequacy of two equilibrium conditions

     4) Materials instead of objects; the microscopic view

     5) Stiffness of materials

     6) Limitations of the linear stress-strain model


5. Getting around: friction and motion

     1) Different kinds of force ‘laws’: phenomenological models vs. fundamental forces

     2) Resisting relative motion: how friction acts

     3) Frictional forces and practical examples of motion

     4) Origins of friction: adhesion and surface roughness

     5) Breaking the ‘rules’ of friction

     6) Moving through air and water: fluid friction in two extremes


6. Describing and quantifying motion in one dimension

     1) Establishing a basic description

     2) Details of the description: changing position

     3) Details of the description: changing speed

     4) Relating these three descriptions of motion: position, speed, and acceleration

     5) Motion as a model for all change, and the origins of calculus


7. Getting started and moving around: what makes motion change

     1) Quantifying a vector quantity of motion: momentum

     2) Force and the rate of change of momentum

     3) Weight and free fall

     4) Scales, free fall, and life

     5) Summing up one dimensional motion: getting started, traveling along, and stopping


8. Turning the corner: dynamics and motion in 2 and 3 dimensions

     1) Moving through the real world; motion in two and three dimensions

     2) A first useful model: circular motion at a constant speed

     3) Starting and stopping rotation

     4) A second useful model: motion with a single, constant force

     5) More complex cases: projectiles with friction and beyond

     6) The legacy of Newtonian dynamics


9. What’s happening: work and kinetic energy, the scalar quantity of motion

     1) Interactions, systems, and state

     2) The energy of motion

     3) Calculating work and determining changes in energy

     4) Using the work-energy theorem

     5) Energy and rotational motion

     6) Quantifying energy in technology and life: some interesting comparisons


10. What could happen: the work of conservative forces and potential energy

     1) Combining work-energy and impulse-momentum in the analysis of an interaction

     2) The work done by gravity

     3) Gravitational potential energy and its applications

     4) Conservative forces and other potential energies

     5) Elastic potential energy and deformation


11. Modeling interactions: collisions

     1) The basics: momentum and energy are always conserved

     2) Collisions between macroscopic bodies

     3) Collisions in three dimensions

     4) Collisions of atoms and molecules


12. Mixing it up: oscillations as a mix of kinetic and potential energy

     1) Describing harmonic motion

     2) Examples of simple harmonic motion

     3) Trading potential and kinetic energy in harmonic motion

     4) Damped harmonic motion

     5) Driven oscillations and resonance


13. Randomness is inevitable: ideal gases and fundamental statistical physics

     1) Energy contained in a material: temperature and thermal energy

     2) An ideal gas is simplest 

     3) Origins of the ideal gas law

     4) Why things happen the way they do: the fundamental assumption of statistical physics

     5) Entropy and statistics


14. Keeping cool and staying warm: thermal transport and life

     1) Temperature and thermal expansion

     2) Heat capacity

     3) Changes of state and heat of transformation

     4) Moving heat around

     5) Size, thermoregulation, and life


15. Using chaos: diffusion and life

     1) Diffusion: moving things with random motion

     2) As easy as breathing: getting oxygen into your cells

     3) An alternative view of diffusion

     4) Diffusion across membranes and osmosis


16. Structures and processes in a world of randomness

     1) Forming structures using random motion

     2) Processes in the non-living world

     3) What is life?

     4) Thermodynamic cycles and engines

     5) Efficiency in thermodynamic cycles and life


17. Floating: fluid statics, including surface effects

     1) What is a fluid and how can you tell?

     2) Hydrostatics

     3) Hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy

     4) Liquids have surfaces: life at the interface

     5) Consequences of surface tension

     6) Solid-liquid-gas boundaries: wetting and not


18. Flowing: fluid dynamics, including viscosity and flow in a pipe

     1) Fluid flow and idealization

     2) Energy in flows

     3) Approaching real flows: Newtonian viscosity


19. Turbulence and mixing: life at high and low Reynold’s number

     1) Characterizing flows on different scales

     2) Life at large Reynolds’ number

     3) Life at low Reynolds’ number

     4) Reynolds’ number and terminal velocity


20. Charges and their interactions: conductors and insulators, Coulomb’s law

     1) Electricity and life

     2) Electrostatics

     3) The Coulomb force

     4) Electrostatics and life: screening and the dielectric constant


21. Reaching out: electric fields from dipoles and other charge configurations

     1) Spooky” action-at-a-distance

     2) Fields from arrangements of charges

     3) Fields from other charge distributions

     4) Electric fields and conductors

     5) Two infinite planes: the capacitor

     6) Electric flux and Gauss’ law


22. Storing it up: electric potential energy and electric potential

     1) Electric potential energy

     2) Electric potential energy and stability of matter

     3) Further abstraction: electric potential

     4) Finding potential from field and field from potential

     5) Potentials, fields, infinities, and approximate models


23. Using charge in cells: capacitors, dielectrics, and cell membranes

     1) Capacitance as the efficiency of charge storage

     2) Making capacitors

     3) The cell membrane as a capacitor

     4) Dielectric breakdown and lightning


24. Moving charge: current, resistance, power and circuits

     1) Moving beyond statics: steady currents

     2) What is current really like? How do charges flow?

     3) Resistance and resistivity

     4) Analyzing simple circuits: Kirchoff’s rules

     5) Some practicalities

     6) Time dependence: RC circuits


25. The living circuit: signal transmission in nerve cells

     1) Signaling and life

     2) Nerve cells: their basic structure

     3) Membranes, ion transport, and the Nernst equation


26. A surprise connection: magnets and moving charges

     1) Adding an element: the magnetic field

     2) Magnetic forces on moving charges

     3) Mass spectrometers: an important application

     4) Magnetic force on a current carrying wire

     5) Magnetic field produced by a current: Biot-Savart law

     6) Magnetic forces between wires, in loops, and in solenoids

     7) Dipoles in fields both uniform and not


27. Fields from fields: EM induction, displacement current, and EM waves

     1) An additional connection: changing magnetic fields produce electric fields

     2) Electric ‘generators’ and other applications of induction

     3) The final connection: displacement current and the charging of capacitors

     4) Fields begetting fields: electromagnetic radiation


28. Making waves: waves and their description

     1) Getting the message

     2) Describing a wave: the ‘wave function’

     3) Some examples

     4) A specific and very useful example: a traveling sine wave

     5) Wave fronts and rays, intensities, and dimensionality

     6) The Doppler effect

     7) An application of sound propagation: biosonar


29. Mixing waves: superposition and interference

     1) When Waves Collide

     2) 1D superposition: nearly identical harmonic waves differing in phase

     3) Material mismatches and reflection

     4) Sound and musical sound

     5) Interference in more than one dimension


30. Spreading waves: wave fronts, diffraction, x-ray crystallography

     1) Wave propagation in uniform media: Huygen’s construct

     2) Shadows and otherwise: waves and diffraction

     3) Some useful details

     4) Interference from two small slits in 2D

     5) Combined interference and diffraction from two broader slits

     6) Interference from 3 to many slits: diffraction gratings

     7) Scattering from small sources is like passage through small slits

     8) Reading the book of life: the structure of DNA

     9) Function follows form: X-ray diffraction and the structure of biomolecules


31. Waves and media: reflection, refraction, dispersion and analysis

     1) Waves at boundaries: material mismatch

     2) Hearing in air and water

     3) Things are not what they seem: bent paths for light

     4) Capturing waves: total internal reflection and beyond

     5) Refraction is wavelength dependent: dispersion and the ‘analysis’ of waves


32. Seeing clearly: forming images and the multitude of eyes

     1) What is an image?

     2) Eyes and their components

     3) Meeting these requirements and the variety of eyes

     4) Structures of some extraordinary eyes

     5) Focusing light with a lens

     6) The human eye as an optical instrument

     7) Failures of the eye

     8) Limitations of the eye


33. Seeing the invisible: imaging technologies which extend the senses

     1) Seeing with your own eyes: science and experience

     2) Simple magnifiers

     3) Microscopes

     4) Telescopes

     5) Medical imaging with high energy light: X-ray and CAT scans

     6) Medical imaging with sound

     7) Medical imaging: other modes

     8) The future: what kinds of imaging remain?


34. Inside the atom: elements, nuclei and their transformations

     1) Atoms, their nuclei and electrons

     2) Constructing the nucleus: protons and neutrons

     3) Binding energy and the mass defect

     4) Heavy nuclei and nuclear stability


35. Radiation and life: ionizing radiation and its effects

     1) Radioactive decay and decay chains

     2) Radiation and life


36. Origins: the cosmos, the elements, the Sun and the Earth

     1) What is the universe made of, and how do we know?

     2) The origin of elements: the Big Bang and stars

     3) Stellar death and supernova pollution

     4) The origin of planets and the Earth


37. Life in the universe

     1) Defining life

     2) Setting the stage: the conditions for life in the universe

     3) Planets and moons

     4) Finding life elsewhere


38. Closing the book: facing the great challenges

     1) Cosmic history and the future

     2) The origin of life and its ubiquity

     3) Developmental plasticity and experience

     4) The physical underpinnings of consciousness




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