PHYS 114/154 & PHYS 115/155 Biophysics Essay

This guide is designed to help you find resources for the biophysics essay

1. Step One

FIRST, really understand what your instructor is asking you to do; only then will you understand what your "information need" is.

Here are some basic requirements of the assignment:

  • Research and write about a biological application of concepts and ideas you learned in your physics class(es).

This application may focus on unique anatomical adaptations of humans and/or animals, especially those adaptations that are particularly remarkable in some way, e.g., how does the length of bones and angle of muscle attachments allow some animal to be fast, graceful, strong, ...

  • You must use more than one resource.  Research other than that performed through Google is encouraged and desirable.  Try the library's catalog and databases. Consulting with a librarian is strongly encouraged and will be noted.
  • Use of images is are encouraged as is the use of calculations learned from PHYS& 114/154 and PHYS& 115/155 as they apply to the concepts of this paper.

Resources should, therefore, include these things (each resource need not include all of these things, but all of your resources should combine to provide the following):

  1. Information speaking directly to what interests you: cheetah speed, flea jumping, monkey swinging, ...
  2. The biophysical, biomechanical aspects of anatomy that allow these feats
  3. Mathematical formulas describing the physics of these feats (and are from your physics classes)

2. Step Two: Plan and conduct your research

Step One above is key to your success.  Now that you know what you need you can get to work finding resources to "satisfy your information need".

  • Brainstorm a list of search terms

Think of words and phrases relating to your topic or the concept you are researching. Think about the concept vocabulary, especially that of the first half of your physics textbook: torque, acceleration, moment of inertia, elasticity, center of rotation, etc.

  • Combine terms by using Boolean operators

When searching the library catalog, databases, or the internet, Boolean operators help you broaden or narrow your search and its results:

  • AND narrows your search (acceleration AND greyhound finds information about racing dogs as it may pertain to their sprinting ability)
  • OR broadens your search (acceleration AND greyhound OR thoroughbred horse finds both information on racing dogs and horses)
  • It is important to put search terms together in different ways.  Acceleration AND greyhound OR thoroughbred horse will give different results compared with acceleration AND horse. See a Librarian for assistance.


  • Read and analyze the material you find
  • Evaluate the sources you’ve found, paying attention to their relevance, purpose, value, accuracy, and authors’ credibility.  As you start to create an outline of your paper, note areas where you need more information.


  • Search again
  • Research is circular.  You may realize that the sources you initially found are incomplete.  Or, perhaps those sources are now leading your research down a slightly different path and you need to alter your research focus.  Or, maybe you read a book and found a citation to a journal article that seems perfect for your paper.  Follow that path, but keep you mind on your question: Is this or that resource speaking to your question and satisfying your assignment criteria?

You are stronger than you think

"Hannes" Kolehmainen, Finnish long distance runner, c.1910 No known copyright restrictions.

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