Articles > Physics > Biophysics > Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life by P. Nelson

Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life by P. Nelson

 Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life  



  • Philip Nelson


  • Hardcover: 600 pages
  • Publisher: W. H. Freeman (July 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0716743728
  • Shipping Weight: 2.71 pounds 



Book Description

The first text of its kind, Biological PHysics synthesizes information from the developing field of biological physics. The text focuses on new results in molecular motors, self-assembly and single-molecule manipulation,integrating these topics with classical results. The text also provides foundational material from the emerging field of nanotechnology. Built around a self-contained core, the text is geared toward undergraduate students who have taken one year of calculus-based physics. Additionally, there are "Track-2" sections that contain more advanced material for senior physics majors and graduate students.

Book Info

Philip Nelso is a Professor Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his A.B. from Princeton University (1980) and his Ph.D. from Harvard University (1984). Professor Nelson serves on the Biophysical Societ’s Education Committee. He received the University of Pennsylvania’s highest teaching award in 2001, in part, for creating the course that formed the basis for this book.


good book, ideal for students., July 4, 2005

I used Nelson’s Biological Physics textbook for a graduate level reading course in physics, and found it excellent for my needs. I haven’t taken a biology course since high school, and although I have researched biological systems for some time, I have had a very fuzzy view of biological physics until recently. I was skeptical of a book that claims it is appropriate for students from second year undergraduate through graduate studies, but by using the Track 2 option, and following up some of the cited papers and suggested readings I found it to be quite suitable. Also, the text was well written, and easy to follow – which is ideal for independent study.

Nelson’s Biological Physics starts humbly, with a brief introduction of energy, and the size range inherent to biological systems. Using statistical and thermal physics principles, Nelson builds upon simple ideas to end the text with elegant descriptions of complex biological entities like molecular motors and ion channels. Under other circumstances such topics would frighten even the bravest physics student who has had no initiation to the biological realm of study! With little to no biology background myself, I was apprehensive about a course on biological physics, but found that Nelson usually described relevant systems and experimental methods in sufficient detail and from a perspective that appealed to me. If a topic were not described in great detail, the text generally cited additional resources – especially for more challenging topics.

The "Your turn" exercises scattered throughout the text alternated between being helpful and annoying. While useful for engaging the reader, they sometimes provide roadblocks to chapter sections and homework problems when particularly tricky. Also, I found the brief section on matrix mathematics and eigenvalues in chapter 9 inadequate. If the author assumes that readers will have a deficiency in this area, then it may prove more useful to either expand more generally on the mathematical tools described, or to develop an alternative approach to the material in this chapter. Perhaps in later editions an appendix on necessary mathematical material will be added to this text. In contrast, I appreciated the use of real experimental data in the figures throughout the text, and in many of the homework exercises as well. It provided an undeniable credibility to the work, and made the exercises seem more worthwhile, as they obviously related to actual experiments and models.

The book covers a lot of statistical and thermal physics, as necessary for a course intended for second year undergraduate and onwards. Although there was a lot of review for an upper level physics student, the examples were still interesting, and the Track 2 option provided a more in depth look at many topics, with both more challenging text sections and homework problems. The flexibility that this option (in combination with aggressive use of the suggested follow-up readings and independent use of related materials) introduces keeps the book accessible for second and third year undergraduates, while maintaining the necessary academic level for a senior undergraduate or graduate course. I would recommend this book to any student or professor, with either a biology or physics background that is interested in knowing more about biological physics.