How can introductory physics best serve future life scientists and premedical students? Physics is an increasingly important foundation for today’s life sciences and medicine, as recognized by recent reports from professional societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the American Association of Medical Colleges. However, the content and skills identified by these reports and other practitioners as most important for these fields are often not taught, or underemphasized, in traditional algebra-based college physics courses. Furthermore, such courses rarely make substantive connections between the physics taught and the life sciences. I propose (in general agreement with many innovators in this area) that an exemplary course for these students focuses on the most relevant physics content, which does not always match the traditional introductory physics syllabus; anchors that physics in rich biological contexts; and explicitly seeks to develop sophisticated scientific and problem-solving skills, both qualitative and quantitative. I will present the syllabus and key features of the course I offer at Swarthmore College, describe the process of developing that course in collaboration with my biology colleagues as well as many others, and identify directions for further development and research related to such courses.
Location: Physics Bldg., Room 401