It is often that an M&T student will read the syllabus for a non-Wharton, non-Engineering course and think to him or herself, “This is a course I would like to take before I graduate.” Yet it is a real treat to fulfill this fleeting hope.
In the fall of my sophomore year, I enrolled in Physics 280, Physical Models of Biological Systems, satisfying that same hope. A biology nerd in every sense of the word, I was so excited to learn the math and physics behind all of the complexities of biology: how humans see, how animals move, and how bacteria reproduce. I would consider Physics 280 a fulfilling course for three reasons: (a) it helped me better understand natural phenomena I encounter daily, (b) it helped me hone valuable skills like statistics and Matlab, and (c) it cast me in a classroom environment with a professor who dedicated himself to the study of biophysics and brought real personality to the classroom.
Our textbook for the course was a work-in-process book, more or less a narrative, that Professor Nelson was writing at the time. Prof. Nelson’s animated lecture style and wild antics at the blackboard made the course all the more engaging and the trek to DRL worth it every time. I still vividly remember when he meticulously drew out a model of the rods and cones in the human eye. In one fell stroke and without warning, he dramatically drove a chalk from one end of the board to another, making clear that the model he had just drawn was naive and inconsequential.
During one of many office hour conversations with Prof. N, it came to light that there were many synergies between the bioengineering major curriculum and biophysics minor. Sold by my experience in Physics 280, I have since declared and completed the biophysics minor.
M&T certainly stresses interdisciplinary studies, yet there are so many academic fields beyond management and technology that can be interesting and rewarding. I am lucky to have found the biophysics program at Penn, one that undoubtedly enriched my experience and allowed me to explore concepts and develop skills that I really value.
Physics 280 is still offered with Professor Philip Nelson every fall, and I highly recommend it for any M&T looking for a challenging but worthwhile natural science course. Further, I recommend the biophysics minor to any bioengineering M&T interested in learning more about how natural processes really work. The syllabus for Physics 280 can be found here: http://www.physics.upenn.edu/~pcn/Course/280/syllabus280summary.pdf. The way it is written should give a good sense of how Prof. Nelson approaches the course.
Shaun is a current M&T in the Class of 2014 from Los Angeles, CA. He studies Management and Statistics in the Wharton School and Bioengineering in Penn Engineering with minors in Mathematics and Biophysics. In addition to academics, Shaun is the Vice President of the co-ed South Asian fusion dance group Penn Masti, a three-time Teaching Assistant for the Statistics Department, and a Venture Coordinator for Wharton Leadership Ventures.