Physics 131

Physics for Life Sciences I

Description and Prerequisites

This course is intended for biology majors, other life science 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 (BIOL 110 and 111, BIOL 121 and 131, or the equivalent)
  • One semester of college chemistry (CHM 109, CHM 115, or the equivalent)
  • One year of college mathematics (MATH 231 and 232 or the equivalent -- calculus and introductory probability will be used)

What do I need to buy?

There is no textbook to buy for this course. There is a lot of reading, however, and you will be given links to on-line articles that you need to read before each lecture. There also is no lab manual to buy. The lab instructions will be made available online. You will need to have:

  • An i>clicker -- a remote control device available at campus book stores. If you already have one, you can also use it here. Register your clicker following the instructions on the PHYS 233 Blackboard home page.
  • An ExpertTA account for the on-line homework problems -- Click on this link ExpertTA and follow the instructions for entering your email address and for making payment.

What else do I need?

  • A computer -- for access to ExpertTA, Blackboard, etc. (There are times when it could be handy to bring a laptop to lab also.)
  • A spreadsheet program -- You may need to use Excel or Google Sheets in labs.
  • ImageJ 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.

How do I succeed in this class?

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

  • Do the readings! -- This is the heart of the course. For each lecture and some labs there will be a required reading of about five web pages. For two of these, typically, you will be asked to summarize the page on your ExpertTA online homework program and ask a question about it. The lecture reading write ups will be due by 11:59 PM the night before the lecture class. You can also find the lecture reading assignments on the LECTURES page, and the Lab pre-readings under Recitation/Labs
  • Attend and participate in all the lectures, recitations, and labs! -- Pretty obvious. Class & lab & recitation discussions is where much 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! -- This is good practice for exams too. You are encouraged to work with others. We will staff "Help Center" hours 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 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 GRADES ETC page.

Times and Places

Time, Days Place
Lecture MW 1:30-2:20
PHYS 114


Section 018 8:30-9:20 Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari
Section 006 9:30-10:20 Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari
Section 003 10:30-11:20 Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari
Section 005 11:30-12:20 Antoine Martin
Section 004 1:30-2:20 Antoine Martin
Section 020 2:30-3:20 Antoine Martin
Section 002 3:30-4:20 Antoine Martin

PHYS 154


Section 019 9:30-11:20 Jian-Yu Chen & Zachary Mitchell
Section 016 11:30-1:20 Guga Khundzakishvili & Dewan Woods
Section 015 3:30-5:20 Kennard Chng & Guga Khundzakishvili


Section 012 9:30-11:20 Jian-Yu Chen & Guga Khundzakishvili
Section 013 11:30-1:20 Zachary Mitchell & Dewan Woods
Section 014 1:30-3:20 Jian-Yu Chen & Kennard Chng
Section 017 3:30-5:20 Kennard Chng & Guga Khundzakishvili

PHYS 154
Help Center I

Professor Durbin's office hours, right after the lectures, on Monday & Wednesday 2:30-3:30 pm.

PHYS 166
Help Center II

Friday 10:00 am - 12:00 pm Jian-Yu Chen
Friday 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm Kennard Chng
Friday 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm Alireza Krabakhsh Ravari



Name Room Office Hours EMail
Instructor Prof. S. M. Durbin PHYS 166, phone 494-6426 Mon & Wed 2:30-3:30

by appt (send email), or drop-in!
Jian-Yu Chen
Kennard Chng
TA Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari HELP CENTER
Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari
TA Guga Khundzakishvili HELP CENTER
Guga Khundzakishvili
TA Antoine Martin Help Center II, PHYS 12A Antoine Martin
TA Zachary Mitchell HELP CENTER
Zachary Mitchell
Dewan Woods

Email Policies

Certain informational questions are best handled by email. Experience has shown, however, that there are several areas that are best handled instead in face-to-face meetings:

  • How to solve a physics problem. While we could easily communicate the answer to a problem to you, we have found that this is not an effective way for students to learn physics.

  • What are the grade cutoffs, and why didn't I get a better grade?. Again, these questions are best handled in a face-to-face discussion, because they are important questions and need to be addressed in a serious way. As a matter of policy we do not release the final cutoffs, but we describe above exactly how the cutoffs are determined. We would be especially interested in talking with you if you find that some of your scores were not properly counted.

    The type of emails you should send the instructor: Send a note suggesting two different times and dates when you would like to meet. You may also include the topic of the meeting.


    This course and much of the content of these web pages are very much copied from a pioneering effort at the University of Maryland (College Park), where a team of educators representing physics and biology created a new curriculum for teaching introductory physics to life science students. This effort has been funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes through their NEXUS consortium (of which Purdue is also a member). Much of the material printed on these web pages, and practically all of the on-line readings, homework problems, and related materials, were created by the UMd team under the direction of Professor E. F. Redish.

    Edited by S. M. Durbin August 2018