Anderson Biophysics Research Group - Teaching

Teaching Philosophy


Active Learning:From years of being a student myself, I know that the only way I am able to truly learn something is to actually do it myself. I would often leave a typical lecture thinking I understood the material that was covered, but when I went to do a problem or apply what I “learned” I realized that I didn’t really have a good grasp of it. It was not until I actually did a problem on my own or pondered a question about the material that I really understood it. I also found that when an instructor engaged the class, constantly asking questions and making the students think, I was much more likely to really pay attention and get more out of the class.

I devote a significant amount of class time to small group quantitative and qualitative problem solving. As a student in my class, you work the problems with your classmates (with hints and guidance from me) instead of me showing you how to do them. I could show you one way to solve one problem and you could solve that problem, but if I teach you skills to independently approach and solve new problems through constant guided problem solving in class, then you will be able to solve any problem thrown at you!

Conceptual Understanding: All too often, physics courses focus solely or primarily on the equations that describe the various concepts and quantitative problems that apply these equations. Without focus on conceptual understanding students simply try to “hunt” for the right equation to use to solve a problem without really understanding what the equation means and why they are using it. The equation hunting method often does not work for multiple step problems or problems that involve more than one concept (which most of them do). Truly understanding physics concepts is actually quite difficult, but once that deep understanding is achieved, solving quantitative problems involving the concepts becomes much easier.

Real World Applications: Physics is all around us! It’s the study of the universe from quarks to galaxy clusters and everything in between. So much of our everyday experiences are explained by physics and so many technological advances are owed to physicists, that a physics course that doesn’t highlight these applications is a betrayal to the beauty of science.

Understanding physics requires hard work, dedication and inspiration. Discussions, demonstrations and solving problems about surfing, music, laser surgery, sunsets, fusion and more not only fascinates and open students’ eyes to the magic of physics, but they inspire hard work to understand the material. I also believe in straightforward teaching and testing. I want to try to reach EVERY student in the class, not just those elite few students who really have an interest and affinity for the subject.

Course Descriptions

PHYS 136/137: General Physics I/II (4)


This 2-semester physics sequence is designed to introduce life science majors to the mind-blowing world of physics. These courses explore mechanics, waves, heat, electricity, magnetism, optics and modern physics which explain so many of the phenomena that we experience everyday in the world around us. To understand these phenomena we need to use the most important tool in any physicist’s arsenal – problem-solving! So a primary goal of this sequence is to develop effective problem-solving skills. The topics covered and problem-solving skills developed are also highly relevant to biological systems, and fundamental understanding of these topics is crucial to success in the life sciences. Problems, topics and applications focus on those most directly applicable to life sciences such as muscle contraction, cell membranes and signaling, blood flow, diffusion, vision, as well as laser surgery, MRI and X-ray technologies.

PHYS 319: Statistical & Thermal Physics (3)


Virtually all substances we encounter in everyday life are many body systems (solids, liquids, gases, light…).

So not surprisingly, thermal physics, which studies the internal motion of these systems, has an exceptionally wide range of applicability. Thermal physics is the only branch of physics that is integral to all other branches of physics as well as biology, engineering, chemistry, and material science. Thermodynamics deals macroscopically with these large systems exploring relationships between temperature, heat, work, energy and entropy. Statistical mechanics provides a molecular-level interpretation of macroscopic thermodynamic quantities. Because we are dealing with ~1023 particles at one time (a gigantic number!) traditional deterministic questions of physics are impossible to answer. Instead, we use probability theory mathematics to calculate average properties of the 1023 particles and predict macroscopic system states to quantify pressure, temperature, energy and entropy. We discuss wide ranging applications including: magnetism, ferrofluids, superconductors, fuel cells, engines, blood oxygenation, DNA flexibility, black holes, galaxies, and more.

PHYS 495: Seminar II: Frontiers of Physics (1)


This course exposes students to the what, where, how and who of cutting-edge physics and biophysics research. The course is structured around bimonthly trips to University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to attend physics seminars and meet with UCSD physics faculty. Because USD is a small undergraduate institution, there are limited opportunities for physics and biophysics majors to get broad exposure to current physics research, the research institute environment, and the scientific community as a whole. UCSD, on the other hand, has weekly physics colloquia in which prestigious researchers (including Nobel Laureates!) from around the world are invited to speak about their research. The UCSD physics department is also nationally recognized with a number of highly regarded physicists researching a broad range of fascinating problems. The colloquia cover topics at the forefront of science: dark matter, the Higgs boson, brain function, fusion, gene regulation, galaxy formation, nanotechnology, graphene, invisibility, antimatter, global warming and more. Faculty meetings and lab tours provide students with the unique opportunity to talk with renowned physicists and experience first-hand the powerful pioneering techniques and instrumentation they employ.

PHYS 340: Biological Physics (3)


The biological world is a veritable playground of complex and fascinating physics from the scale of single molecules to animal population dynamics. As such, physicists, including Einstein and Schrodinger, have long been fascinated with the biological world, making important contributions to long-standing questions such as heredity and Brownian motion. Experimental and theoretical techniques developed by physicists, including optical trapping, microfluidics, and statistical mechanics, can also answer a world of complex biological questions. Biological Physics explores this intimate relationship between physics and biology with a focus on molecular and cellular biology. The foundations of biophysics are introduced systematically, starting from thermal physics and building to current cutting-edge research topics such as protein folding, molecular machines and brain function. Some specific topics include DNA mechanics, blood flow, fluorescence and force microscopy, molecular and cellular self-assembly, and biomaterials.

PHYS 481W: Experimental Biophysics (4 units)


This laboratory-based course introduces students to principles of biophysics research techniques. Instrumentation development and experimental research in the course explores topics of fluorescence and force spectroscopy, molecular diffusion, fluctuation-dissipation theory and viscoelasticity related to molecular and cellular biophysical systems. Students are also trained in general wet-lab techniques and computational data acquisition and analysis using Matlab. This course is the primary upper-division laboratory requirement for the biophysics major and fulfills the upper-division USD Core writing requirement. Students write and edit research reports on their experimental results at a level suitable for journal publication. The writing process includes an introduction to literature search techniques and the peer review process.