Most first year physics course sequences focus primarily on the macroscopic: 19th century physics (Newton and mechanics and electricity and magnetism).

In contrast, chemistry and much of modern biology involve molecular level processes.   

While we do not necessarily believe that biologists or chemists should teach physics, we do believe that physicists who teach physics to biology and chemistry students should have a basic understanding and appreciation of these sciences.

link to AAAS 09 talk on the subject!

Physics for molecular biology students (Klymkowsky, 2014)


For example, in our studies of energetics we have found that students have trouble with the question: 

Consider a gas at a constant temperature; this gas contains both light and heavy molecules; which has the greater average kinetic energy? 

  • the lighter molecules
  • the heavier molecule
  • both have the same
  • not possible to predict

Clearly this is a physics problem, but understanding the correct answer has ramifications for a wide range of chemical and biological processes, such as the specificity and stability of molecular interactions, the movement of molecules, the energy available to drive thermodynamically unfavorable or kinetically limited reactions, etc.

Over the last few years, we have been pondering whether Einstein & Infeld's "The Evolution of Physics" (text here) could provide the basic framework for transforming introductory college level physics to better serve the disciplinary needs of life science (and chemistry) students.