Interactions between the fields of physics and biology reach back over a century, and some of the most significant developments in biology—from the discovery of DNA’s structure to imaging of the human brain—have involved collaboration across this disciplinary boundary. For a new generation of physicists, the phenomena of life pose exciting challenges to physics itself, and biophysics has emerged as an important subfield of this discipline. Here, William Bialek provides the first graduate-level introduction to biophysics aimed at physics students.
Bialek begins by exploring how photon counting in vision offers important lessons about the opportunities for quantitative, physics-style experiments on diverse biological phenomena. He draws from these lessons three general physical principles—the importance of noise, the need to understand the extraordinary performance of living systems without appealing to finely tuned parameters, and the critical role of the representation and flow of information in the business of life. Bialek then applies these principles to a broad range of phenomena, including the control of gene expression, perception and memory, protein folding, the mechanics of the inner ear, the dynamics of biochemical reactions, and pattern formation in developing embryos.
Featuring numerous problems and exercises throughout, Biophysics emphasizes the unifying power of abstract physical principles to motivate new and novel experiments on biological systems.
- Covers a range of biological phenomena from the physicist’s perspective
- Features 200 problems
- Draws on statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and related mathematical concepts
- Includes an annotated bibliography and detailed appendixes
Awards and Recognition
- William Bialek, Winner of the 2013 Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience
William Bialek is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton University, where he is also a member of the multidisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and is Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the coauthor of Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code.
"[T]he book goes beyond being a structured material for readers to learn about biophysics; it takes readers on an incredible journey in discovering fascinating ways in which biological phenomena can be viewed and studied. The technical adroitness and more importantly, the unique way of thinking about biological problems, in the reviewer's opinion, makes the book a must-read for any aspiring biophysicists."—Angie Ma, Contemporary Physics
"[P]hysicists who are seeking an exciting intellectual path through the complexity of biology will deeply appreciate Bialek's clear vision of the big ideas and his expert guidance through their many applications."—Stephen J. Hagen, Physics Today
"The book is well crafted, linking the historic work of the 'giants', e.g. Helmholtz with his seminal view of vision and hearing, with latest and trendy research, exemplified by the use of information theory in biology."—Robert Endres, Biological Physics Group Newsletter
"This book is full of insights that were new to me. It explores myriad questions that are both deep background themes in biology, and also fascinating to physicists. Bialek is a dean of this field, and an inspiring teacher."—Philip Nelson, University of Pennsylvania
"Bialek's excellent book bears the stamp of both his originality and technical prowess. What I look for when I read a book is something unique that I know I won't find anywhere else. Bialek delivers that in spades on a topic of great interest to scientists of all stripes."—Rob Phillips, California Institute of Technology
"This excellent book covers very original ground, providing an authoritative overview of important problems while linking strongly to the original literature. The topics are taken from real biology but build on the standard knowledge that a physics student should have. This indeed represents a great path to train interdisciplinary scientists—without losing the discipline."—Pietro Cicuta, University of Cambridge