Physics 131

Physics for Biologists I

Description and Prerequisites

This course is intended for biology majors and pre-health care professionals. The physics topics chosen are selected for these students and the contexts emphasize authentic biological examples. Prerequisites for the course include:

  • One year of college biology (BSCI 105 and 106 or the equivalent)
  • One semester of college chemistry (CHEM 131 or the equivalent)
  • One year of college mathematics (MATH 130 and 131 or the equivalent -- calculus and an introduction to probability)

This is not your parents' physics! This class will focus on the physics relevant to living things from molecules to worms to woodpeckers. While physics, chemistry, and biology are well established fields, some of the scientific questions you will explore in this class have only recently been tackled. You will focus on physics at the convergence with biology, where physical, chemical and biological principles all come into play. A primary theme for this first semester is the concept of motion -- and the difference between coherent, directed motion and the random motion that occurs at the molecular level.

What do I need to buy?

In conjunction with the University's policy to save you money on texts, there is no textbook to buy for this course. We have developed an online WikiBook that you will be able to read for free. (If you would like to have a textbook, we can recommend a few.) There is also no lab manual to buy. The lab instructions will be made available online. You will need to have:

  • A Clicker -- a remote control device from TurningPoint that allows you to contribute answers in lecture. It is available at the Campus Book Store. This is the campus standard. If you have one from another class, you are ikely to able to use it here. If you have an iPhone, iTouch, iPad, or Android device, you should be able to use it as a clicker. See the campus clicker page for more information.
    After you have purchased a clicker or ResponseWare account please register it here:
  • Online HW service -- HW will be done online through the online service, WebAssign. You can expect it to cost between $25-$30 for each semester. For instructions on how to purchase this, download and follow the instructions in the document, WebAssign Student Quick Start Guide. The Institution Code is "umd" and the Class Keys are eight-digit codes. Be sure to sign up for the right sections!
    • Dreyfus: umd 7938 3271
    • Peel: umd 6623 1591

What else do I need to get?

A lot of what we'll be doing this term will be on the computer. Our readings and our homework will be on Canvas and WebAssign. You will also need access to a spreadsheet, and you will learn to download and use a video analysis program in labs. If you do not have your own laptop, you will need to seek out the campus computer rooms and find the places where you can access the appropriate programs. You need:

  • Access to a computer -- if you have your own laptop you will be able to use that. If not, you will have to seek out campus computers that run the programs we will be using and to see our Announcements and to track your grades on Canvas.
  • A Spreadsheet -- You can either use Excel, OpenOffice or the spreadsheet available at Google Docs ( to do repetitive calculations. If you plan to use Google Docs you will need to have a Google account (a free Gmail account will work.)
    For those of you who are unfamiliar with spreadsheets, there are a number of good tutorials on the web. These below look particularly appropriate. Many others are easily found by putting "Excel tutorial" into your favorite search engine. We will do our own training on Excel in the first lab.
  • A Video Analysis Program -- You will learn how to quantitatively analyze images and videos. The tool we will use for this will be ImageJ. This program is freely available, developed for use in biology and medicine at NIH, and is the professional standard. If you have your own laptop, we will help you install this in the laboratory period during the second week of class.

What do I need to do to succeed in this class?

Here is a brief outline of what you will need to do throughout the class. For more details, see the Course Mechanics page.

  • Do the reading for each lecture and selected labs! -- For each lecture and some labs there will be a required reading of a few web pages. For a few of these you will be asked to ask a question about the page on your WebAssign online homework program. The lecture reading writeups will be due by [TIME] the day before the lecture class. You can find the lecture reading assignments on the Schedule Page for your instructor, and the Lab pre-readings under Recitation/Labs.
  • Attend and participate in all the lectures, recitations, and labs! -- This is a class very much about doing, not just about learning facts or equations. In lecture we will be doing very little lecturing but a lot of answering questions, doing group problem solving, and holding class discussions. You will get participation points for some of this stuff, but that's not the point -- the point is that the doing in lecture and recitation, and in labs is where a lot of the real learning in this class takes place. A major part of what you will be learning is how to talk about and make sense of physics through problem solving with your classmates and by designing, doing, and analyzing experiments in lab.
  • Do the weekly homework! -- While the lecture and recitation is where you will learn to talk about and make sense of physics through problem solving, the homework is where you will get to try it out with your classmates on your own. You are encouraged to work with others. We have a Course Center (room 0208) (also embedded on an ELMS "Page" for the class) set up, where you can find people to work with (and get help when you are stuck). But be careful! If you work together, DO NOT create a common solution and have everyone copy it. Once you have worked out a solution together, each person must write it up separately in your own words. If two solutions are too nearly identical, neither will get credit! Homework assignments themselves are found on our Homework Assignment page.
  • Keep up! -- We know that you're busy, and in many other classes you can let things slide and then catch up for the exam. In this class that will be very difficult. Each lecture builds on the last, and on the homework from previous weeks. If you miss too much you may find yourself lost. In addition, your grade in this class is based on the accumulation of points in many different categories throughout the term. For details see our Course Mechanics page.

Times and Places

Event Dreyfus (010x) Peel (020x) Location
Lecture TuTh 11-12:15 MWF 11-11:50
Physics 1410

Tue 8am, Thu 8am, Thu 2pm

Mon 2pm, Wed 8am, Wed 2pm

Physics 3310
Laboratory Tue 9am, Thu 9am, Thu 3pm Mon 3pm, Wed 9am, Wed 3pm
Physics 3310


Instructors Name Room Email
Dr. B. Dreyfus Physics 1326
Dr. A. Peel various offices
Head TA (and 0101) John Biddle
TA (0102 and 0202) Mark Eichenlaub
TA (0201) Rachana Kshirsagar
TA (0103 and 0203) Israel Martinez Castellanos
Head Lab TA Kim Moore Physics 1322  
Learning Assistant  
Learning Assistant  
Course Center Physics 0208

All office hours are in the Course Center (click here for the schedule - link will go here). Contact your instructor if you want to set up a meeting at another time.

Honor code:

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit this link. If you have any questions about policy or procedures, please feel free to ask. We are looking forward to working with you and hope that you will both enjoy and learn a lot from the class.

Disability arrangements:

Students who have arrangements for extra time on exams should check in with the instructor at the beginning of the class. In this class, arrangements will be made for extensions of time on site rather than at the DSS site. This is to account to permit the student to ask the instructor questions for occasional corrections or clarifications that are made during the exam period as the result of student questions.

Religious holidays and other excused absences:

This class follows campus policy for granting exemptions for religious holidays. For absences for illness or other reasons, please email your professor stating the cause and date of your absence.

The "ph" in physics stands for phun

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