Biology and Physics

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Wed Oct 11 19:26:53 EST 1995

Dear Ian:
Let me provide you some comments.
Alex Berezin

On 11 Oct 1995, Ian Ferguson wrote:

> Hi All,
> 	I am a teaching assistant in the Physics Department at UCLA and I am 
> teaching a lab to life science majors.  I sense there is a general attitude
> among my students like the following "physics is not going to be of use 
> to me in my future profession".  

Unfortunately, this is one of the most fundamental
fallacies of this ("Western") world that prime criterium of
everything is ulilitarity. Physics (or any science 
for this matter) should be learned (and taught) ONLY
by (and to) those who are INTERSTED in them BECAUSE
THEY ARE INTERESTING. Yes, we as teachers should put
all the efforts we can to show our students that these
things are interesting. But, if despite our efforts,
it does not work, than those students who keep 
insisting that 

"why should I learn this, unless I see no use in it ?"
should be left alone - don't worry about about further 
efforts in saving their souls - THEY DON'T NEED YOU (or 
science for that matter).  

>I would like to be able to give these students a few
> examples of where physics is useful in, for instance, biology. 

Physics means Nature. For Aristotle "biology" was
a part of physics (because it IS a part of physics).
You have to work with your students towards "unity
in diversity" - there are plenty of excellent recent
books on this. 

> Can anyone out there give me a few examples where vectors 
> are used in biology?  How about simple things like conservation
> of energy?  I realize that this probably isn't the most common 
> thing among biologists, but perhaps someone has given some
> thought to this.  

Don't overplay conservation laws. It is not that they are
no longer working (although, ideas of zero-point energy are
vigorously digging under them), but that their relative role 
in physics (and science in general) is now somewhat pushed
aside by such issues as emergence, order-disorder, 
self-organization, symmetry breaking, nonlinearities, chaos, 
etc. This is where you likely can find most of the interest.

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546

> Ian Ferguson
> fergie at

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