Physical Principles: Waves

  • Peter R. Bergethon


Why study wave motion? We already know that the description of our natural state space has qualities of both particle mechanics and wave mechanics. When we require quantum mechanical descriptors, we will need to be familiar with both of these mechanical descriptions. This knowledge is necessary for work at a fairly complex level. At a very practical level, however, the wave description per se is a very useful abstraction. We know about the biological systems that interest us because we interact with them. All of our interactions are through electromagnetic phenomena. Even though all of the phenomena that interest us can be completely described in terms of quantum electrodynamics, this is practically (though not conceptually) complicated. Electromagnetic radiation is composed of rapidly alternating electric and magnetic fields (i.e., waves). It is the rapid to-and-fro motion of electrons that gives rise to the electromagnetic radiation that influences the electrons in our eyes and instruments, allows us to see, and enables our instruments to sense. Without the connection of the wave, we would literally be blind to the world around us.


Point Source Phase Difference Wave Packet Wave Pulse Standing Wave 
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Further Reading


  1. Feynman R. P., Leighton R. B., and Sands M. (1963) The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol. 1. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, MA.Google Scholar
  2. Warren W. S. (1993) The Physical Basis of Chemistry. Academic Press Co., San Diego.Google Scholar


  1. Borg E. and Counter S. A. (1989) The Middle-Ear Muscles. Scientific American, 261(2): 74. 80.Google Scholar
  2. An analysis of the mechanics of the muscular damping mechanism used to reduce energy delivery to the sensitive sensing mechanisms in the human ear.Google Scholar


  1. Cantor C. R. and Schimmel P. R. (1980) Biophysical Chemistry, vol. II. W. H. Freeman, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Giacovazzo C. ed, Monaco H. L., Viterbo D., Scordari F., Gilli G., Zanotti G., and Catti M. (1992) Fundamentals of Crystallography. International Union of Crystallography, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Lisensky, G. C., Kelly T. F., Neu D. R., and Ellis A. B. (1991) The Optical Transform. J. Chem. Ed., 68:91—6. A nice, practical article to read along with the Perutz chapter, Diffraction without Tears.Google Scholar
  4. Perutz, Max Appendix 1—Mathematical Principles of X-Ray Analysis in Protein Structure: New Approaches to Disease and Therapy. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1992.Google Scholar
  5. Perutz, Max. Chapter 1—Diffraction without Tears: A Pictorial Introduction to X-Ray Analysis of Crystal Structures, in Protein Structure: New Approaches to Disease and Therapy. New York: W. H. Freeman, 1992. A nonmathematical treatment. Elegant and insightful.Google Scholar
  6. Tinocco I., Sauer K., and Wang J. C. (1994) Physical Chemistry with Applications in Biological Sciences,3rd edition. Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  7. van Holde K. E. (1985) Physical Biochemistry, 2d ed. Academic Press, New York.Google 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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