In response to increasing calls for the reform of the undergraduate science curriculum for life science majors and pre-medical students (Bio2010, Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, Vision & Change), an interdisciplinary team has created NEXUS/Physics: a repurposing of an introductory physics curriculum for the life sciences. The curriculum interacts strongly and supportively with introductory biology and chemistry courses taken by life-science students, with the goal of helping students build general, multi-discipline scientific competencies. NEXUS/Physics stresses interdisciplinary examples and the content differs markedly from traditional introductory physics to facilitate this: it extends the discussion of energy to include interatomic potentials and chemical reactions, the discussion of thermodynamics to include enthalpy and Gibbs free energy and includes a serious discussion of random vs coherent motion including diffusion. The development of instructional materials is coordinated with careful education research. Both the new content and the results of the research are described in a series of papers for which this paper serves as an overview and context.
This material is based upon work supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute NEXUS grant and the US National Science Foundation under Award Nos. DUE 11-22818, DGE 07-50616, and partial support under DMR-12-44666. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of HHMI or the National Science Foundation. The authors are grateful for conversations with numerous physicists, biologists, and chemists at the University of Maryland, and at the TRUSE, SABER, APS, and AAPT conferences.
II. THE PROCESS AND FRAMEWORK
A. Opening a dialog among stakeholders in biology, chemistry, and physics
B. What we have learned from our research and conversations
1. Epistemological differences between physics and biology faculty
2. Epistemological challenges to reaching biology students in a physics class
3. Epistemological opportunities for making connections
III. WHAT WE DECIDED: AN OVERVIEW OF OUR CHANGES
A. Rethinking the place in the curriculum
B. Epistemological development: Focusing on competency building
C. Shifting the content
IV. HOW WE GO ABOUT IT: A SUMMARY OF SOME SPECIFIC CHANGES
A. Respecting interdisciplinarity by including biological authenticity
B. Atoms, molecules, and chemical energy
C. Thermodynamics of entropy and free energy
D. A statistical physics viewpoint
E. Laboratories that reflect the process of science and the course content
V. PUBLICLY AVAILABLE MATERIALS
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