In the current climate, science and science research is becoming increasingly inter- and multi-disciplinary. A rigorous training in one discipline, such as physics, should not preclude an awareness of other subjects. In particular, physics at the interface with biology ("Biological Physics") is not only a growing area of importance in its own right, it also satisfies the interest many students have in the burgeoning new biology of this post-genomic era.

The Institute of Physics, recognizing these factors, has used a grant from the National HE STEM Programme for the production of teaching materials in Biological Physics for departments and individual lecturers to incorporate into their own courses as they see fit, particularly when they currently have no staff members expert or even familiar with some of the topics themselves. The material is provided in modular form, incorporating both explanatory text and detailed PowerPoint slides, as well as book recommendations for further reading. It can be used in different ways – for instance simply in the form provided to give stand-alone modules, or to provide information on specific examples (or inspiration for further examples) which may be incorporated into existing courses, for instance on thermodynamics or condensed matter.

The material for this course has been written by a group of experts specifically for the purpose of facilitating teaching in mainstream undergraduate physics courses, with the content devised and overseen by a project board. The material currently available will be augmented over the months ahead to cover a broad swathe of what might be termed "biological physics", ultimately including:

  • Thermodynamics, as relevant to biology including membranes, aggregation and Brownian motion;
  • Classes of biological molecules, their structures and functions;
  • Basic architecture of the cell, including the cytoskeleton;
  • Tissues and organisms;
  • Classical physiology;
  • Biological energy;
  • Molecular machines;
  • Regulatory networks;
  • Biomechanics;
  • Biodiversity.

  • Not all of these modules are currently on line. The choice of topics is intended to be broad and illustrative of the key ideas which would be appropriate to introduce at an undergraduate level for physicists. But it is not exhaustive and one thing the project board is clear about is that there are many different ways, utilising a variety of themes and topics, to expose undergraduates to this important area depending on existing course structures within any given institution. However, as the recent EPSRC International Review of Physics made clear, Biological Physics needs to be given more prominence in the undergraduate curriculum than it currently is in many UK universities.

    As Project Director, I commend this valuable material to you. I hope all institutions will review the material available, both now and in the months ahead, and evaluate how best to incorporate the topics into their teaching programmes.