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Physical Biology of the Cell

Rob Phillips, Jane Kondev, Julie Theriot
Publication Date:
November 18, 2008
Content Details:
800 pages

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  • About the Book

    Book Summary

    Physical Biology of the Cell is a biophysics textbook that explores how the basic tools and insights of physics and mathematics can illuminate the study of molecular and cell biology. Drawing on key examples and seminal experiments from cell biology, the book demonstrates how quantitative models can help refine our understanding of existing biological data and also be used to make useful predictions. The book blends traditional models in cell biology with the quantitative approach typical in physics, in order to introduce the reader to both the possibilities and boundaries of the emerging field of physical biology. While teaching physical model building in cell biology through a practical, case-study approach, the text explores how quantitative modeling can be used to build a more profound, intuitive understanding of cell biology.


      • A practical introduction to the physical model building in cell biology: for both students and scientists in physics, biology, or biochemistry!
      • Explores how and why quantitative models can enrich and refine an intuitive understanding of experimental approaches in cell biology.
      • Over 600 illustrations and micrographs merge the visual style of traditional molecular and cellular biology with the quantitative approaches of physics.
      • Special sections are integrated throughout the chapters to help build an intuitive understanding of the mathematics and experiments: (1) Estimates; (2) Experiments Behind the Facts; (3) Math Behind the Models; (4) Tricks Behind the Math.
      • The end-of-chapter questions challenge the reader to extend the knowledge gained in the chapter to new data or additional situations. A comprehensive solutions manual is available for instructors.

      The following supplements are available for instructors and students:

      • PowerPoint® slides of the figures & micrographs.
      • "Hints for the reader" for some of the more difficult problems.
      • Supplementary data sets.
      • Supplementary videos.
      • Solution Manual for all end-of-chapter problems.

      The Solutions Manual, which is available only to qualified instructors,
      may be requested via e-mail from


      "…[The] authors of Physical Biology of the Cell have produced one of the first multi-purpose textbooks that is readily accessible to both physicists and biologists…. When read from cover to cover, the book is both very instructive and highly entertaining with the authors using humour to deliver strong take-home messages in each chapter….Physical Biology of the Cell provides instructors with excellent material to create a graduate level course in biology or physics.  The book is also very timely as it presents the most recent views in cell biology.  As physicists, we strongly agreed with the message of the authors, but will this be the case for our biologist colleagues?  We will know for sure if blackboards in biology departments, like the sand on the book cover, are soon covered in equations!"

      Nature Cell Biology, August 2009

      "…a monumental undertaking by three outstanding experts in the field…the book is a rich collection of special topics in biophysics…"

      Quarterly Review of Biology, September 2009


      Physical Biology of the Cell is beautifully crafted: self-contained and modular, it provided tutorials on fundamentals and has material to hold the interest of a more sophisticated reader. It is fast-paced, proceeding within each chapter from freshman basics to graduate level sophistication. The book requires minimal prerequisites: a curious mind and undergraduate calculus will go a long way. It can be used as an undergraduate or early graduate biophysics course in a physics or engineering department. In the context of a molecular cell biology course, it could complement Molecular Biology of the Cell (or its equivalent), serving as a vehicle to introduce biology students to a quantitative way of thinking about biology. To truly master the physics presented in the book, one should do the problems provided with each chapter. These problems are well thought out and are a major teaching resource. (The instructor can also obtain a set of solutions). Because of these features, Physical Biology of the Cell offers a great deal of flexibility as a teaching tool.

      Cell, November 2009


  • Contents

    Part I The Facts of Life
    1. Why: Biology By the Numbers
    2. What and Where: Construction Plans for Cells and Organisms
    3. When: Stopwatches at Many Scales
    4. Who: "Bless the Little Beasties"

    Part II Life at Rest
    5. Mechanical and Chemical Equilibrium in the Living Cell
    6. Entropy Rules!
    7. Two-State Systems: From Ion Channels to Cooperative Binding
    8. Random Walks and the Structure of Macromolecules
    9. Electrostatics for Salty Solutions
    10. Beam Theory: Architecture for Cells and Skeletons
    11. Biological Membranes: Life in Two Dimensions

    Part III Life in Motion
    12. The Mathematics of Water
    13. A Statistical View of Biological Dynamics
    14. Life in Crowded and Disordered Environments
    15. Rate Equations and Dynamics in the Cell
    16. Dynamics of Molecular Motors
    17. Biological Electricity and the Hodgkin-Huxley Model

    Part IV The Meaning of Life
    18. Sequences, Specificity and Evolution
    19. Network Organization in Space and Time
    20. Whither Physical Biology

  • Instructor Resources

    Instructor Resources

    To access instructor resources please go to

    The original data used to create both the figures and homework problems are available in Excel spreadsheets. With this data, the reader can extend the theoretical tools developed in the book to fit experimental data for a wide range of problems. The data files contain explicit statement of all relevant units, and include references to the original sources.

    Power Point Presentations
    The PowerPoint presentations contain the figures and micrographs from the book. There is one presentation for each chapter.

    Artwork available in JPEG format. It is organized by chapter.

    Solutions Manual
    Solutions to all problems are provided on the Instructor Resources site.

  • Student Resources

    Student Resources

    To access student resources please go to

    The hints for problems provide both hints and strategies for attacking some of the more difficult end-of-chapter problems. In some cases, the hints provide intuition about how to set up the problem; in other cases, the hints provide explicit mathematical instructions on how to carry through more tricky manipulations.

    The videos complement the figures and discussion from the book by illustrating the rich dynamics exhibited by living organisms and the molecules that make them tick.

  • E-book and Custom Pub

    E-book and Custom Publishing


    The VitalBook e-book is available for purchase in its entirety or by chapter, or to rent for 1 year or 180 days, in the US and Canada from VitalSource.
    Purchase or rent in North America

    Garland Science Custom Publishing gives educators the ability to create their own course materials for use in the classroom-in e-book and/or print format. Faculty have complete control over what is added and may add chapters from Garland Science textbooks, web articles and blog postings, and self-authors content in PDF or Word format. Our site provides real-time copyright clearance, the ability to see a running total price as you build your book, and a cost savings for students.

    For more information visit

  • Downloads

    Samples & Downloads

    Download the Detailed Table of Contents from the book.

    Click on any of the links below to download a printable PDF of a sample chapter.

    Chapter 2: What and Where: Construction Plans for Cells and Organisms