Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Biophysical Chemistry

  • Peter R. Bergethon


What is biophysical chemistry and why study it? As a field, biophysical chemistry is an interdisciplinary area of study in which biological systems are regarded with the somewhat quantitative and concrete eye of the physical scientist. In using the intellectual paradigm of biophysical chemistry, we attempt to understand a biological phenomenon by carefully describing the essentials of its physical nature. This gives us the advantage of using the tools of the physical scientist to explore the complexities of biological systems. These tools are essentially the language and formalisms of mathematics, physics, and chemistry. The underlying philosophical foundation of biophysical chemistry is that application of the principles of these fields to biological systems will lead to meaningful and useful information. Although it is impossible to explore biological problems with a biophysical paradigm without being knowledgeable about the underlying physical and chemical principles, when teaching and learning these fundamentals, both the instructor and the student can easily get lost in the physical details and forget the overall purpose of the investigation. In this volume we will endeavor to find the proper balance.


Potential Energy Surface Myosin Head Actin Fiber Biophysical Chemistry Electromagnetic Radia 
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Further Reading

  1. A number of texts approach the interdisciplinary subject of molecular biophysics. Some are physical chemistry texts oriented to biological applications. The following are in press as of 1997:Google Scholar
  2. Eisenberg D. and Crothers D. (1979) Physical Chemistry with Applications to the Life Sciences. Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo Park, CA. [Fairly standard content with clear approach to most fundamental topics.]Google Scholar
  3. Tinocco I., Sauer K., and Wang J. C. (1994) Physical Chemistry (Principles and Applications in the Biological Sciences), 3rd ed. Prentice-Hall, Engelwood Cliffs, NJ. Up-to-date and filled with lots of worked problems.Google Scholar
  4. No longer in print but still available in most school libraries are the following:Google Scholar
  5. Chang R. (1990) Physical Chemistry with Applications to Biological Systems. McMillan, New York. Generally a very gentle introduction to physical chemistry.Google Scholar
  6. This next group focuses on the study of biomolecules using a physical approach. In press in 1997 are the following:Google Scholar
  7. Cantor C. R. and Schimmel P. R. (1980) Biophysical Chemistry, parts I, II, and III. W. H. Freeman, New York. Fairly complete theoretical formulation of most topics. A logical step for a more in depth coverage of many topics.Google Scholar
  8. Freifelder D. M. (1982) Physical Biochemistry: Applications to Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2nd ed. W. H. Freeman, New York. A nonmathematical treatment of many of the same techniques covered in van Holde. Packed with examples and descriptions of the practical use of these methods to solve every sort of biological problem.Google Scholar
  9. van Holde K. E. (1985) Physical Biochemistry, 2nd ed. Academic Press, New York. Short but dense packed theoretical summary of most of the physical methods traditionally used in the physical analysis of biomolecules.Google Scholar
  10. These are no longer in press but, again, are available on bookshelves and in libraries:Google Scholar
  11. Edsall J. T. and Wyman J. (1958) Biophysical Chemistry. Academic Press, New York. This is one of the classic texts in the field and is worth reading cover to cover just for the insight and style of the authors. Of these texts, a discussion of the scientific approach to biophysical chemistry can be found in Cantor and Schimmel (chapter 1, volume 1) and in a broad sense in Edsall and Wyman.Google Scholar
  12. More traditional coverage of physical chemical principles can be found in the following texts. In general these texts are lucid and a useful place to start an exploration of topics outside the direct biological sphere. The newer texts have an ever-increasing amount of biological material.Google Scholar
  13. Alberty R. A. and Silbey R. J. (1992) Physical Chemistry. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  14. Atkins P. W. (1995) Physical Chemistry, 5th ed. W. H. Freeman, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Castellon G. W. (1983) Physical Chemistry, 3rd ed. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.Google Scholar
  16. Moore W. J. (1978) Physical Chemistry, 4th ed. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Other background texts in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and biology will be listed in appropriate chapters.Google Scholar

Muscular Contraction

  1. Alberts B., Bray D., Lewis J., Ruff M., Roberts K., and Watson J. (1994) “The Cytoskeleton.” In: The Molecular Biology of the Cell, 3rd ed. Garland Press, New York, chap. 16.Google Scholar
  2. Stryer L. (1995) “Molecular Motors.” In: Biochemistry, 4th ed. W. H. Freeman, New York, chap. 15.Google Scholar
  3. Amos L. A. (1985) Structure of muscle filaments studied by electron microscopy. Ann. Rev. Biophys. Biophys. Chem., 14: 291–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Pollard T. D., Doberstein S. K., and Zot H. G. (1991) Myosin-I. Ann. Rev. Physiol., 53: 653–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Stossel T. P. (1994) The machinery of cell crawling. Sci. Am. 271 (3): 54–63.Google Scholar
  6. Rayment I., Rypniewski W. R., Schmidt-Base, K., Smith R., Tomchick D. R., Benning M. M., Winkelmann D. A., Wesenberg G., and Holden H. M. (1993) Three-dimensional structure of myosin subfragment I: molecular motor. Science, 261: 50–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter R. Bergethon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryBoston University School of MedicineBostonUSA

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