8.02, 18.02

Course Objectives

Biology is now probing molecular level systems, so the need for physical molecular are becoming prevalent. Understanding the physical properties of biological systems on the molecular level allows one to engineer them. This course was created for the development of a biological engineering major, and serves as a core course that teaches the fundamentals of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics necessary for upper level biological engineering courses. It is cross listed for mechanical engineers who wish to develop a molecular understanding, and serves as part of the bioengineering and nanotechnology tracks for mechanical engineering majors.

Specifically, this course serves as an introduction to the physical chemistry of biological systems and deals with the connection of macroscopic thermodynamic properties to microscopic molecular properties using statistical mechanics. It includes chemical and electrochemical potentials, equilibrium states, the behavior of macromolecules in solution and at interfaces, titration of macromolecules, and solvation. Example problems include protein structure, genomic analysis, single molecule biomechanics, and biomaterials.


There will be two 1-hour recitation sections per week. Students may choose any one recitation section most convenient for their schedule.


Dill, K., and S. Bromberg. Molecular Driving Forces. New York: Garland Press, 2003. ISBN: 0815320515.

Additional References

Hill, T. L. An Introduction to Statistical Thermodynamics. New York: Dover, 1986. ISBN: 0486652424.

van Holde, K. E., W. C. Johnson, and P. S. Ho. Principles of Physical Biochemistry. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998. ISBN: 0137204590.

Eisenberg, D., and D. Crothers. Physical Chemistry with Applications to the Life Sciences. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings, 1979. ISBN: 080532402X.

Kittel, C., and H. Kroemer. Thermal Physics. 2nd ed. San Francisco CA: W. H. Freeman, 1980. ISBN: 0716710889.

McQuarrie, D. A. Statistical Mechanics. New York: Harper Collins, 1976.

Atkins, P. W. Physical Chemistry. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1997.


3 In-class Quizzes 25% (each)
Final Exam 25%

All examinations will be closed book. One page of notes is allowed.

Homework Policy

Homework will not be graded. Practice problems representative of those that will appear on exams will be assigned each week, along with solutions. Please attempt to work the homework on your own before looking at solutions and work all problems each week as they are assigned. Practice problems will be discussed in recitation sessions. Students who can work all practice problems easily without looking at notes or asking for help usually perform well on exams.