Readings in Biophysics, part II (Readings not in Biophysics)

I’ll continue writing on useful or interesting readings in biophysics — Part I, a few weeks ago, dealt with textbooks.  There are many technical or scientific books that either aren’t actually about biophysics, or that are about a narrow aspect of biophysics, that are nonetheless particularly useful or stimulating. Here are some that come to mind:

Useful or interesting readings in biophysics

Part II: Other Technical Books

Random Walks in Biology, by Howard Berg. Possibly my favorite biophysical book, this slim, clear, fascinating volume deals with the physics of random walks and its connections to bacterial chemotaxis. It contains wonderfully simple and clear derivations of the basic principles of random walks, as well as great insights into bacterial motions. It’s widely considered a classic, for good reason.

Anything by Steven Vogel, especially “Life’s Devices.” Vogel writes brilliant and very accessible books on biomechanics, exploring for example why smaller creatures have an easier time walking on water than larger ones, and the dynamics of “biological projectiles” from mold spores to fleas. Warmly and cleverly written, these books illustrate how simple undergraduate physics orchestrates phenomena vital to all of organismal biology.  I make liberal use of Life’s Devices in my biophysics-for-non-science-majors course.  Related: On Size and Life by Thomas McMahon and John Tyler Bonner, all about biomechanical scaling relationships, is also excellent, though sadly out of print.

The ability to program is a valuable skill in all modern sciences. In my lab’s work, computational image analysis is crucial. We use MATLAB for nearly everything, and a book we’ve found useful, especially for new students, is Digital Image Processing Using MATLAB, by Gonzales, Woods, and Eddins.

Related to programming, an understanding of how to construct computational models is very important. An excellent book on modeling in biology (which contains a lot of biophysically-relevant examples) is Introduction to Modeling for Biosciences, by David J. Barnes and Dominique Chu. At UO, it’s available free on-line [link].

Finally, since my last post dealt with issues of data visualization, I’ll note Tufte’s classic “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.” Parts are a bit odd, and it’s longer than it needs to be, but nonetheless its key messages of maximizing data-to-ink ratios and being aware of misleading distortions of scale are always worth keeping in mind. Recent years have seen a flurry of books on data visualization, a few of which are on my vast list of books to read (someday!).

Here’s a visualization of a hummingbird, for no particular reason:


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