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Need a strategy for independently studying physics for molecular bio

  1. Apr 15, 2014 #1
    Hello all; I'm in an odd position. I graduated with a degree in molecular biology 2 years ago and now work in a quality control lab for a pharmaceutical manufacturer. My job involves doing things like running gene-amplification reactions for recombinant microorganisms used in drug-production, electrophoretic and spectral analysis of protein and protein assay reaction products, etc. However, I do not understand a lot of core physics concepts behind many of my work functions.

    For example; we run mass spectrometry at my job, and though I can operate a MS and read the spectra well, I would like to better understand the mechanisms as to how molecules ionize, how they move through an electromagnetic field, how the detector works etc.

    We also do IR, FTIR and UV/Vis spectral analysis, but I would like to better understand how molecules/atoms/subatomic particles and so on respond to light of various wavelengths, associated vibrational changes, mathematical functions and such.

    We also use Proton NMR and Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy, but I have a very poor grasp of what particle Spin actually is or how it works.

    So far, my range of understandin is stuck at the "molecular level." THINK what I want to learn is light and particle physics, but whenever I attempt to learn these topics, I always encounter tons of precedent topics that require lots of time and effort to learn, much of which I'm not even sure if it's related to what I want to learn or if it's worth the effort.

    If anyone can recommend any resources or strategies for studying physics for molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmaceutical or biomedical applications, it would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2014 #2
    You want to know the physics behind spectroscopy and molecules so you should study physical chemistry. There are many awesome textbooks on physical chemistry, so check them out.

    Physical chemistry includes quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. Quantum mechanics helps explain spectroscopy and the interaction of matter with light. Thermodynamics helps explain chemical and biological reactions.

    In order to fully understand these topics, you should be comfortable with mathematics up to multivariable calculus, vector calculus, differential equations, partial differential equations, and complex variables. However, most universities send chemistry majors through physical chemistry courses with only a background in multivariable calculus.

    EDIT: Once you are comfortable with the concepts in physical chemistry, you could easily understand the concepts of spectroscopy and molecular physics. I recommend brushing up on your math, getting familiar with a physical chemistry textbook, and then find any book on spectroscopy and biophysics. There are also many books on physical biochemistry.
  4. Apr 16, 2014 #3
    For your needs I recommend undergraduate physical chemistry to start off, as that will introduce you to both the formalism and the applications. Atkins "Physical Chemistry" is a common choice. It is a bit hand wavy though.

    If your mathematical background is strong enough, you can think about jumping into a graduate quantum chemistry text like Atkins "Molecular Quantum Mechanics" or Ira Levine's "Quantum Chemistry" as that gives you the full math of quantum mechanics along with the full math of the applications, and doesn't handwave too much.

    Mass specs are mostly classical, and an undergraduate EM book should suffice.

    For electrophoresis, look at any analytical chemistry book, but for a fundamental physical chemistry understanding, I suggest reading the book "Molecular Driving Forces: Statistical Thermodynamics in Biology and Chemistry". It is a rigorous yet friendly and easy to understand book. I used it instead of my main text for my graduate statistical physics class and it was good enough for everything except quantum statistics. It might not give you the answer to predicting electrophoresis, but you can understand it, and eventually make a model for predicting it.

    Mathematically, you should know multivariable calculus, basic concepts of ordinary differential equations and linear algebra (2nd year basic math).
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