Science and Profession (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
A young boy skips a stone across a still pond, and a startled frog jumps into the water. Physics studies nature in the arc of the stone, the rippling of the water, the sound of the splash, and the surprising motions of the atoms and molecules within the stone and the water of the pond. Biology, on the other hand, studies the boy and the frog—their cells, nerves, muscles, and senses—which are very different from the dead mass of the stone and the still water of the pond. Despite their immense differences, the boy, the frog, the stone, and the pond have the same atoms and obey the same basic laws of nature. Biophysics enters, for example, when the boy hears the sound of the splash, one of many meeting grounds between biology and physics as they merge into one knowledge. Since biological systems are chemical and mathematics is the language of physics, biophysics has significant overlap with biochemistry and biomathematics.
Biology is the scientific investigation of the laws of life. In particular, biology studies both the structure and function of cells and organisms such as viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals, including their communities. It studies the means by which life nourishes and maintains itself and by which it perpetuates itself by genetic transmission, reproduction, and evolution. Medical science applies this knowledge in the service of humankind. Physics is the scientific investigation of the laws of...
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Diagnostic and Treatment Techniques (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Perhaps the most obvious example of the influence of physics upon biology and medicine is in instruments. Physicists and engineers continually fashion new instruments based on novel developments in physics, and many of these find important applications in biology and medicine. This area of biophysics changes continually. As the complexity of instrumentation is reduced to the routine, the necessity for the involvement of physicists disappears. Biology and medicine take over the new tool.
The optical microscope is an example of a valuable instrument taken into biology and medicine. E. B. Wilson (1856-1939) used a microscope to draw the first primitive pictures of the cell in 1922. Only six cell constituents were clearly shown. Today, advanced instruments such as the electron microscope have provided a more detailed picture of the cell, with its dozens of specialized structures. Microscopes have long been a staple of medicine and are now supplemented by fiber-optic technology. Thin fibers guide light inside the patient’s body and allow a physician to heal lesions and diseased sections with lasers.
X-ray analysis is another valuable tool of the biophysicist. X rays have wavelengths that match the distances between atoms in molecules. Thus, molecules produce distinctive X-ray patterns. Computational analysis allows a scientist to determine molecular structure from these patterns. In 1953, James D....
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Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Physics has both enriched biology and profited greatly from the discoveries of many scientists educated in medical colleges and universities. These pioneers include Copernicus, Galileo, and at least a dozen other noted scientists who practiced from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century. During this period, medicine was the major scientific profession—and before the seventeenth century the only one—at universities.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who proposed that the sun was the center of the solar system, studied medicine briefly in Padua, Italy. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a medical student at Pisa, Italy, but finished in canon law. He used one of the first telescopes to help verify Copernicus’s ideas, constructed some of the first microscopes, and laid the foundations for the present understanding of the laws of motion.
The list of medical doctors who made significant scientific contributions is long. William Gilbert (1544-1603), physician to Queen Elizabeth I, pioneered the study of electricity and magnetism. Luigi Galvani (1737-1798), for twenty years a doctor, investigated animal electricity. The physician William Wollaston (1766-1828) discovered palladium and rhodium and was the first to observe ultraviolet light. Thomas Young (1773-1829) practiced medicine unsuccessfully, but he made important contributions to the understanding of energy and developed the three-color theory of...
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Bergethon, Peter R. The Physical Basis of Biochemistry: The Foundations of Molecular Biophysics. New York: Springer, 2000. This comprehensive introductory text describes the philosophy and foundations of molecular biophysics. It is aimed at advanced undergraduates or beginning graduate students in biochemistry.
Campbell, Gaylon S., and John M. Norman. An Introduction to Environmental Biophysics. 2d ed. New York: Springer, 1998. This book describes some aspects of the physical microenvironment and presents an introduction to models of heat and mass transfer between organisms and their microenvironments. It also provides excellent examples of these models in real systems.
Cotteril, Rodney M. J. Biophysics: An Introduction. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2006. An accessible text that introduces the subject and explores such topics as biopolymers, biomembranes, biological energy, protein folding, DNA/RNA conformations, molecular motors, and the biological origins of consciousness and intelligence.
Davidovits, Paul. Physics in Biology and Medicine. 3d ed. New York: Academic Press/Elsevier, 2008. An accessible text that requires no science background and relates important concepts in physics to living systems.
Marion, Jerry B. General Physics with Bioscience Essays. 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1985. A physics text with twenty-seven simple, readable...
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Biophysics (Encyclopedia of Science)
Biophysics is the application of the principles of physics (the science that deals with matter and energy) to explain and explore the form and function of living things. The most familiar examples of the role of physics in biology are the use of lenses to correct visual defects and the use of X rays to reveal the structure of bones.
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