Fall 2020 - PHYS 347 D100

Introduction to Biological Physics (3)

Class Number: 1126

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30–1:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 14, 2020
    Mon, 8:30–11:30 a.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Completion of 45 units including CHEM 122; MATH 152 or MATH 155; PHYS 102 or PHYS 121 or PHYS 126 or PHYS 141; all with a minimum grade of C-. Recommended: BISC 101.



A physics perspective on cellular structure and composition; random walks and diffusion; properties of fluids, cell motion; entropy and the properties of soft materials; structure and function of proteins; signal propagation in nerves. Quantitative.


Lecture:  Mon, We, Fr 1230-1320
Tutorial:  Mon, 13:30-14:20

Course Topics (provisional):
Physics & biology: the big picture
The building blocks of cells
Molecular motion and the cellular environment
Random walks and diffusion
Fluids and life at low Reynolds number
Entropy, free energy & statistical mechanics
Mechanical properties of biopolymers
Biological membranes
Molecular Motors
Pumps and other cellular gates
Nerve Impulses
Special Topics

Course delivery:
Lectures: synchronous and interactive. Some credit awarded for in-class participation (Clicker-style questions). Will be recorded.
Tutorials: synchronous and interactive. Review-style sessions will be recorded; break-out room discussions will not. Credit awarded for work done collaboratively in break-out rooms.
Independent project presentations: In-class via video or written with follow-up one-on-one video Q&A with instructor.
Tests (3 during the term; dates to be announced): synchronous, during class time.
Final exam: synchronous. Date TBD.  (Final exam period is Dec 9 -20)


  • Assignments 15%
  • Tutorial group work 10%
  • In-class polls (“Clicker questions”) 5%
  • Independent project 20%
  • In-class tests (3) + final exam 50%



Required Text: Biological Physics Student Edition, Philip Nelson (ISBN: 9780578687025)
*Students can purchase book from Amazon (Both e-book and paperback versions available) or Nicebooks.

Required computer resources:

• reliable high-speed internet access
• computer or tablet with webcam and microphone
• smartphone with camera

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Students who cannot write their exam during the course's scheduled exam time must request accommodation from their instructor in writing, clearly stating the reason for this request, before the end of the first week of classes.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).