Resources and community for teaching physics for life sciences





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Living Physics Portal Team

NEXUS Physics

GW Group

Contributing to the Portal, Summer 2020

Contributing to the Portal Working Group


Mark Reeves

Pedagogical Methods Used

Peer Instruction / Think-Pair-Share, Collaborative problem-solving, Conceptually-oriented activities, Context-rich problems, SCALE-UP / studio / workshop physics

Life Sciences Focus

I create/find problems where physical models uniquely illuminate biological structure and function including: power amplification mechanisms, viscosity and drag, diffusion, entropy from micro-state counting in macrostates, electrostatics in ionic solutions, nerve cell function, resonance and bandwidth in hearing and vision, impact of physical laws on evolution.

Education Research and Pedagogy Expertise

Peer-instruction, think-pair-share, group problem solving, SCALE-UP, studio physics, conversion of physical/biological research questions into introductory-level problems.

Years teaching physics for life sciences


Describe the courses that you teach for life sciences students

I teach a two-semester, calculus-based class for bio-science majors and biomedical engineers. The course moves from creating models for motion and builds on mechanism for macroscopic motion of organisms and microscopic motion in organisms. By the time diffusion and entropy are introduced, the emphasis has shifted large scale to molecular and cellular models. Nevertheless macroscopic motion remains a theme throughout with evolution being framed as a nature-as-engineer response to the challenges posed by the laws of physics.

What is your approach to teaching physics for life science students?

In my course, I strive to teach the students to build multi-representational constructs to model natural systems, with an end goal to understand the unique insights obtained from a mathematical-physical description of living systems. This entails starting with standard biological representations like video microscopy and using estimation to begin quantifying them. Ultimately, I ask the students to think mathematically, at a fundamental level to integrate models, like Newton’s Laws, random motion, entropy, electrostatic interactions, and wave motion to describe those more life-science-type representations.

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Conference on Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences Report

Commentary, Reading/resource list, Report, Presentation

Recommendations and guidelines from the 2014 NSF-supported IPLS Conference, attended by more than 150 faculty members



+ 9

Eric Brewe

Juan Burciaga

+ 9 more

Diffusive Transport

Instructor supplement, Clicker question, Lecture materials, In-class activity, Homework, Lab, Exam problem

Diffusion moves molecules with no energy cost, but it's slow and indirect.

Material Flow, Healthy Cardiovascular Function, Animal Respiratory Variations

Probability Density, Binomial Distribution, Gaussian Distribution

+ 4

Mark Reeves

Phoebe Sharp

+ 4 more


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