Why Physics

Irene Anne Eckstrand IAE at CU.NIH.GOV
Thu Feb 24 08:58:07 EST 1994

> In short, I believe that we do a disservice, both to ourselves and to
> our students, if we select courses purely upon the basis of what is
> immediately relevant to our current interests.  It may place barriers to
> capabilities that are later regretted.  My advice to Ms. Phillips is:
> take the physics even if a graduate program does not require it.  It
> cannot do any harm and may open doors that otherwise would be shut.
> Steve Hedman
> Biology, Graduate School
> Univ. Minnesota
> grad at ua.d.umnm.edu

I would like to echo this.  Personally, I succeeded in getting all
the way through my PhD program without ever taking a physics course.
My field is genetics, with an emphasis on evolution, and it is
true that I do not use physics in my day to day work.  However,
my broader interest is in understanding how things work - and
for that, I need physics (and chemistry and math and many other
subjects).  I have learned physics from my physicist husband, and
I have audited several courses;  however, if I had it to do
over again, I would take as much physics as I could.

Everything in biology depends on principles in chemistry and physics.
To really understand biology, a good grounding in these basic
sciences is essential.  There are lots of reports in the literature
that propose ideas that sound neat but violate some very basic
physical principles (the Second Law of Thermodynamics is one of
my favorite misused ones).

On the flip side, I must say that lots of physics courses are
inaccessible to students with a more biological or liberal arts
bent.  I would love to see university level physics courses take
seriously the challenge of educating students rather than providing
an opportunity for "weeding out the dummies."  But that's another
topic of discussion!

Irene Anne Eckstrand
iae at cu.nih.gov

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