Should physicists study biology?

In summary, Francis Crick, a physicist, discovered the structure of DNA. Some argue that physicists should focus on finding cures for medical diseases, but in general, physics groups have a larger presence and following on the internet compared to other groups. This may be because physics is a more attractive and easily understood subject for amateur individuals to develop their own ideas and theories. However, this does not mean that physicists are more aggressive or passionate about their subject compared to others. Many physicists may not have the necessary knowledge or skills to conduct effective medical research. While some believe that physics research is more interesting and wide-ranging than biological research, this is a subjective opinion and cannot be proven. In regards to whether physicists should apply themselves to finding cures for
  • #1
sontag
42
0
Francis Crick figured out the structure of DNA with a
degree in Physics!Should physicists be applying themselves to
finding cures for medical diseases?
In general,physics groups have more members and posts
on the internet than other groups.Why are physicists so
passionate/aggressive about their subject compared to other
people?
 
Biology news on Phys.org
  • #2
Most physicists haven't a clue about how to do good medical research.
 
  • #3
First, I don't want to descriminate biologists and doctors, but physics is a much more interesting and wide subject for research than biology.

Second, it's not that physicist are more agresive than others, but if there are more physics forums it is because physics is a theme more atractive to amateur people who can easily design their own ideas, concepts, theories...
 
  • #4
<<<GUILLE>>> said:
First, I don't want to descriminate biologists and doctors, but physics is a much more interesting and wide subject for research than biology.
That's simply ridiculous.
Second, it's not that physicist are more agresive than others, but if there are more physics forums it is because physics is a theme more atractive to amateur people who can easily design their own ideas, concepts, theories...
I fully agree.
 
  • #5
arildno said:
That's simply ridiculous.

ok, maybe I didn't exactly manifested my opinion correctly.


being more exact, physics resereasch is more interesting than biological research to most of the people. because of my second statement (theory development) and because it is simply more wide: meaning that it's themes are the biggest themes of all.
 
  • #6
"meaning that it's themes are the biggest themes of all."

Would you mind telling us what "metric" you are using here?

So far all you have done is state opinions and value judgements as if they were facts.
 
  • #7
Physics is probably more widely appealing than biology; that certainly seems to be the case. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because conceptual physics can be understood by the common man a little easier, who then thinks he knows physics. Biological systems in general are incredibly more complex than physical systems and are more difficult to conceptualize. That said, popular biology in the form of zoology is still pretty popular. The ratings of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, shows like the Crocodile Hunter, while not exactly serious biology, are still widely appreciated. It may just be that there are more popular physics writers that write for the layman than there are popular writers that do the same for biology. Aside from appeal to the layman, though, I'm pretty sure that biology is a more popular major in US universities at this point; in fact, it may be one of the single most popular majors out of all of them, if only because the employment prospects are huge with the boom in molecular genetics and medical research.

To answer the question, though, no, physicists should study physics. Whatever they want to study on their own time they can, but they shouldn't be required to learn biology nor should they be conducting much biological research outside of biophysics. Crick was able to do what he did because of his expertise in x-ray crystallography, a technique that wasn't widely employed by biologists at the time.
 
  • #8
<<<GUILLE>>> said:
being more exact, physics resereasch is more interesting than biological research to most of the people.
Perhaps to most people on this site, because it is a physics forum, but you'd have a hard time proving that to me in the general population.

because of my second statement (theory development) and because it is simply more wide: meaning that it's themes are the biggest themes of all.
Statements like this make me think that perhaps physicists should study biology, because at least some physicists seem to have a pretty limited view of what biology is all about and the variety of research topics and unknowns in the field.

In response to the original question, it depends on what you mean by should. If you mean should all physicists be required to study and learn biology and apply their physics to biology, no, there's no need for it (though it wouldn't kill them to learn it if they were interested). If you meant should some physicists consider biological applications for their research, sure, that would be great, and yes, they would need to study biology in as much depth as they study physics in order to bridge the fields.

I'm biased, but I'd love to see physics students required to learn some biology, just as us biologists had to learn some physics. We didn't learn enough to become physicists by a long shot, but having a little taste of it reminds us that none of the sciences exists in total isolation from the other sciences. We've basically taken parts of our physical universe and divided them up among three main branches of scientific inquiry, but they are all interrelated at varying levels.
 
  • #9
1) If Sagan had studied more biology, he wouldn't have made such silly statements in his debate with Ernst Mayr (Nereid ducks, as the shower of rotten tomatos from the physicists starts).
2) Although specific examples are not reliable guides, I recently heard of an astrophysicist, who was studying GRBs, did some work on determining the most appropriate gamma radiation treatment regime for individual cancer patients, as part of her sabbatical ... she is so emotional about how her work may result in 'giving life' to cancer patients that she doesn't want to return to her home university (and continue studying the esoterica of GRBs)
3) The intellectual challenges in both fields are both many and deep; that a person with familiarity with one field may find a spark to creativity in applying/extending approaches common in the other is to be welcomed (and should also serve as an antidote to arrogance).
 
  • #10
college should be a 7 years programmwhere you need to learn math computersci, physics, biology and chemistry =]
 
  • #11
I will try to answer all at once.

1) I never said that physicist should not study biology, no way, I think they should, to have a bigger general understanding.

2) I also think biologists should study soe physics fenomena, like electricity, magnetism, sound...(for ex. wales comuncation, turtoils orientation...)

3) I do think more people seem interested in physics not only in this forum but in genral, not by a much bigger percentage, and it is because physics is a much mor strange thing and many of the great scientists were physics 8bigger percentage than biology, not too much). And iot is because biology is something that touches us from very near.

4) Last but not least, when I say that physics is wider I mean that physics makes the biggest questions of all, and has to do with universal things (most biology as I said is near us, in the earth): forces, energy, mass...some so so wide concepts that are really dificult to explain.
 
  • #12
Guille:
Apart from experiments, the physicist's main tool for investigation of the world (i.e, the study of what various mathematical models predict along with the development of such models) is simply inadequate for the study of biological system.
The inadequacy is not to be understood that it would have been logically contradictory to develop mathematical models in order to study biology; rather, the sheer complexity of a biological system means that the maths involved would either be far too simplistic yielding grossly inaccurate predictions, or the maths would be so UGLY that no predictions worth mentioning could be gleaned from it.
The study of large dynamical systems is extraordinarily difficult from the mathematical point of view, and the tools that physicists are in possession of now are totally unsuitable for a worthwhile application of them in biology.
 
  • #13
Arildno,

I never said, or meant to say, that physics experimentation and way of wroking should be introduced in biology or vice versa. I said that the profesionals of each science should ahve a wide-enough knowledge to understand some things in their areas. Just to remember, math isn't all physics.
 
  • #14
<<<GUILLE>>> said:
2) I also think biologists should study soe physics fenomena, like electricity, magnetism, sound...(for ex. wales comuncation, turtoils orientation...)

As far as I know, most, if not all, universities in the US require biology majors to take at least a year of physics (many general physics sequences last a year and a half).
 
  • #15
loseyourname said:
As far as I know, most, if not all, universities in the US require biology majors to take at least a year of physics (many general physics sequences last a year and a half).

well that's good. :smile: I didn't know though.
 
  • #16
<<<GUILLE>>> said:
Arildno,

I never said, or meant to say, that physics experimentation and way of wroking should be introduced in biology or vice versa. I said that the profesionals of each science should ahve a wide-enough knowledge to understand some things in their areas. Just to remember, math isn't all physics.
I started with saying "Apart from experiments,.." so I do know that maths is not all of physics.

It is, basically, an impossible dream you want to have realized then?
The field of biology is far too vast for anyone to have more than the most fleeting acquaintance with most of the field.
 
  • #17
and also in physics. and yes, it is my dream on science, well, one of them, but who cares. I don't say theat physics have to know all biology or most,but as much as possible. Actually they don¡'t have to, but should and that is my last word in the discussion, sorry.
 
  • #18
Other way, make the Biology guys learn something about basic statistics and mathematical science, not necessarily physics.
 
  • #19
nmondal said:
Other way, make the Biology guys learn something about basic statistics and mathematical science, not necessarily physics.
Those working with issues where these topics are relevant do.
Don't regard biologists as dumb, just because they aren't primarily interested in physics&maths.
 
  • #20
They should certainly be aware of it and respect it, but whether they study or not, it is up to them.

Who are we to tell other physicists what to do? Since when was science so restraining?
 
  • #21
<<<GUILLE>>> said:
First, I don't want to descriminate biologists and doctors, but physics is a much more interesting and wide subject for research than biology.
You don't want to hear what came out of my mouth when I read that :bugeye: :biggrin: but you redeemed yourself somewhat.

I think biologists are more well-rounded, since we DO also study physics, chemistry, mathematics and statistics. Biology and physics are closely related, as there are also biophysicists.

Saying that biology is not interested shows the lack of understanding of the general public for the subject. I'm not sure why physics is more popular, is it because biology is a hard subject to break into?
 
  • #22
These questions (like which field is more interesting, difficult, or deep, on average) are too vaguely defined and broad to be particularly interesting. They might have answers, but honestly, why bother? It's not like a biologist or physicist is going to suddenly stop finding their field interesting just because it's less popular with a given group of intellectuals (or non-intellectuals, as the case may be). It sounds to me like chest-beating.
 
  • #23
<rant on>
Folks, once again, don't divide "science" into subfields like physics/chem/bio/math/etc - its all SCIENCE! Everything is one, its interrelated on the deepest of all levels. I started as a Physics major, then peaked my nose into Chemical Engineering and found myself having to take an intro biology class (Molecular Biology) and I realized how fascinating, amazing complex and totally awesome the field was!

People are related to a brick wall just as a 2+2 is related to Vector Calculus! You simply need to find which area you find more fascinating and dig for the advancement of science. All fields of science are inter-dependent and if Physics says something is impossible but Biology says its possible then the system collapses! Nothing would work and otherwise - if we have people who defy gravity or "walk on water" then Physics is wrong.
<rant off>

Should Physicists study Biology? A few introductory courses for graduate students won't hurt, to see different complexities in the Universe as well as generally understand the beauty of reality, I think it is a great idea for Physics undergrad/grad students to take Biology courses, and even go into Medical research - there is plenty of unknowns in human body, and instead of gazing at the stars we should perhaps look inside of us first.
 
  • #24
Monique said:
You don't want to hear what came out of my mouth when I read that :bugeye: :biggrin: but you redeemed yourself somewhat.

I think biologists are more well-rounded, since we DO also study physics, chemistry, mathematics and statistics. Biology and physics are closely related, as there are also biophysicists.

Saying that biology is not interested shows the lack of understanding of the general public for the subject. I'm not sure why physics is more popular, is it because biology is a hard subject to break into?

have you read my other posts?

if you would ahve read them, you would have seen how I explain that part. I meant that it is more interesting to more people because it allows easy amateur speudoscience theories to be created.
 
  • #25
cronxeh said:
its all SCIENCE! Everything is one, its interrelated on the deepest of all levels.
Yes, that is what I meant too. If you only focus on one field, you are missing out on another: you need them all in order to have an intimate understanding of the world around you.
 
  • #26
I think that many engineers and physicists tend to view biology courses (especially at the undergrad level) as mostly lots of rote memorization, with very little emphasis on deriving things from first principles or "problem solving," in the traditional physics sense. The view of the typical layman that has had some exposure to both physics and biology is probably very similar. Perhaps this explains the apparent popularity of physics posts etc. compared to other disciplines? Remember, I'm not making a judgement here, just offering a possible explanation to the original posting.
 
  • #27
A scientist is a scientist. If you have a compelling need to understand reality, it is impossible to resist the biological sciences. Even a pitiful engineer, like myself, is known to borrow biological solutions to vexing problems in mechanics [the Wright brothers did this shamelessly in designing wings, and so has the modern US navy and air force].
 

Related to Should physicists study biology?

1. Why should physicists study biology?

Physicists should study biology because it provides a new perspective on the fundamental principles of physics. By understanding the complex processes and structures in living organisms, physicists can gain insights into the underlying physical laws that govern our world.

2. What can physicists contribute to the field of biology?

Physicists can contribute a unique set of skills and tools to the field of biology. Their expertise in mathematical modeling, data analysis, and experimental techniques can help to unravel the complexities of biological systems and provide new insights into biological processes.

3. How does studying biology benefit physicists?

Studying biology can benefit physicists by expanding their knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It also allows them to apply their knowledge and skills to new and diverse areas, leading to potential breakthroughs and advances in both fields.

4. Are there any specific areas of biology that physicists are well-suited to study?

Yes, there are many areas of biology that can greatly benefit from the involvement of physicists. For example, physicists can contribute to understanding the mechanics of cell movement, the behavior of biological macromolecules, and the dynamics of neural networks.

5. Is collaboration between physicists and biologists necessary?

Collaboration between physicists and biologists is not only necessary, but also highly beneficial. By combining their expertise, these two fields can tackle complex problems and make significant advancements in our understanding of biological systems.

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