Level 2 Physics course
3 units of credit
offered in session 2

Information for Term 2, 2010


Mary Beilby (room 9D OMB )

John Smith (room 119 OMB –

Assumed knowledge: 1st Year Physics, some calculus, some knowledge of biology an advantage, but not necessary.

Assessment: Three assignments (one on John Smith’s part of the course 20%, two on Mary Beilby’s part of the course 10% each), 2 hr exam (60%) in November, time to be announced.

Textbooks: no textbook suitable for the whole course. Notes and websites will be supplied. Textbooks useful for some parts of the course: Kane and Sternheim: Physics, Paul Davidovits: Physics in Biology and Medicine.

Course Goals: why is biophysics important?

Living systems are subject to Laws of Physics. Approaching the research of such systems with this in mind has been very productive in many fields of biology and chemistry.

  • Quantum level: quantisation is important in vision and photosynthesis.
  • Atomic and molecular level: stability of atoms and molecules, protein folding, statistical mechanics of molecular populations.
  • Supramolecular and organelle level: self-assembly, quasi-equilibrium, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, energy transduction, electrical effects (ion channels), osmotic effects.
  • Cellular level: excitable cells (action potentials), cellular mechanics and adhesion, cellular water relations.
  • Supracellular and organ level: models for tissue organisation and differentiation, optics of vision, fluid dynamics of circulation, acoustics of hearing, artificial intelligence and neural net modeling of the brain.
  • Organism level: biomechanics, tomography
  • Ecosystem level: models of interaction
  • Higher levels: planetary effects of (and on) biological systems

Application of physical techniques in research of bio systems and in medicine (both for diagnostics and cure):

  • Diffraction (X-rays, neutrons), Imaging (X-rays, NMR, MRI), electrical and magnetic measurements, nuclear physics.
  • Mathematical techniques: modeling, simulations, control theory, image and signal analysis, statistics

Course syllabus: (weeks 2 - 7)

1. Fluids

Water and other biologically important fluids, chemical and thermal properties, surface free energy and surface tension, contact angles, tensile strength, the hydrophobic effect, fluid dynamics, viscosity and turbulence.

2. Chemical potential and water relations

The Boltzmann distribution, osmotic equilibria, diffusion, cellular water relations.

3. Audition

Anatomy and function of the ear, impedance matching, spectral analysis, coding, production and analysis of speech.

4. Vision

Anatomy and function of the eye, optics, colour vision, quantum effects, elementary image processing.


Plagiarism is the presentation of the thoughts or work of another as one’s own.* Examples include:

  • direct duplication of the thoughts or work of another, including by copying work, or knowingly permitting it to be copied. This includes copying material, ideas or concepts from a book, article, report or other written document (whether published or unpublished), composition, artwork, design, drawing, circuitry, computer program or software, web site, Internet, other electronic resource, or another person’s assignment without appropriate acknowledgement;
  • paraphrasing another person’s work with very minor changes keeping the meaning, form and/or progression of ideas of the original;
  • piecing together sections of the work of others into a new whole;
  • presenting an assessment item as independent work when it has been produced in whole or part in collusion with other people, for example, another student or a tutor; and,
  • claiming credit for a proportion a work contributed to a group assessment item that is greater than that actually contributed.†

Submitting an assessment item that has already been submitted for academic credit elsewhere may also be considered plagiarism.

The inclusion of the thoughts or work of another with attribution appropriate to the academic discipline does not amount to plagiarism.

Students are reminded of their Rights and Responsibilities in respect of plagiarism, as set out in the University Undergraduate and Postgraduate Handbooks, and are encouraged to seek advice from academic staff whenever necessary to ensure they avoid plagiarism in all its forms.

The Learning Centre website is the central University online resource for staff and student information on plagiarism and academic honesty. It can be located

The Learning Centre also provides substantial educational written materials, workshops, and tutorials to aid students, for example, in:

  • correct referencing practices;
  • paraphrasing, summarising, essay writing, and time management;
  • appropriate use of, and attribution for, a range of materials including text, images, formulae and concepts.

Individual assistance is available on request from The Learning Centre.

Students are also reminded that careful time management is an important part of study and one of the identified causes of plagiarism is poor time management. Students should allow sufficient time for research, drafting, and the proper referencing of sources in preparing all assessment items.

* Based on that proposed to the University of Newcastle by the St James Ethics Centre. Used with kind permission from the University of Newcastle
† Adapted with kind permission from the University of Melbourne.

last updated 1st February 2011