Each time I see a new textbook on biological physics I become more convinced that this is an intellectual response to a continual and pressing need for texts in a highly interdisciplinary and rapidly changing area. The entire educational system at the beginning of the 21st century has undergone drastic alterations in concepts, philosophy, and practicability of teaching science at the interface of multiple disciplines. In addition, swift transformations of fundamental and applied sciences undoubtedly have profound implications for the nature and depth of the topics taught in undergraduate classes. Such changes are necessary so that graduating students will be well received by the community; a robust and versatile preparation of students will make them well prepared for pursuing careers in many sectors of the economy.

Given these reasons, there are unquestionable and persistent challenges when it comes to writing a biological physics book at the boundary of traditional disciplines and crossing both classical and applied areas. Indeed, it is an intimidating task because of several other motivations. First, there is a need for establishing an almost jargon-free communication approach that is accessible to students within a fairly broad range of preparations, backgrounds, skills, and expectations. A great biological physics text should be not only accessible to physics majors but also to biomedical and chemical engineers, as well as to those pursuing degrees in areas pertaining to physical and chemical biology; it should address the needs for a wide student population, which includes both sciences and applied biomedical areas. Second, the highly interdisciplinary nature of this subject prompts a very selective, well-structured, and hierarchical list of problems that need to be prioritized and presented in the most logical manner. Third, there is a need for the design and development of a strategic collection of unifying themes connecting most of biological physics topics. Without this unification, such themes would seem disconnected in traditional undergraduate curricula. In other words, this approach would bridge the divide and remove obstacles and boundaries that we have drawn over many decades. This collection would have to include principles, concepts, methods, and approaches from physics, chemistry, mathematics, and statistics, permitting the examination of biological systems in a multi-scale fashion, from atomic and sub-molecular levels to complex organisms and populations. The general features of the methods and approaches in biophysical science are at the heart of its beauty, richness, and multi-scale implications in biological systems.

Quests in biological physics are quite diverse in nature, dimensions, and topics. Why do small molecules and polymers go in a concerted fashion where they need to go, as opposed to those molecules in abiotic systems? How do biological polymers, such as nucleic acids and proteins, assemble and interact with each other to execute precise functional missions? How do cellular membranes transduce energy? How do cells adopt their shape and undergo motions? How do all organisms respond to external physical, chemical, and biological stimuli? To tackle these questions, it is necessary to use an array of theoretical, computational, and experimental approaches, providing quantitative assessments of biophysical phenomena.

Philip Nelson, a physics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has done a terrific job in conceiving and completing Physics Models of Living Systems, a biological physics textbook that addresses the above mentioned needs and challenges. There are numerous traits that make this text unique among the very many books of biological physics that focus on some topics rather than others, in most cases depending on the affinity of the author for particular areas. Unraveling the complexity of biological systems using physical and mathematical approaches is the basis of many stunning discoveries in recent years. Nowadays, approaches in life sciences rely on the ability to measure physical and chemical variables as well as the capability to integrate the obtained outcomes into models, patterns, and rules for a better mechanistic understanding of the complexity of biological functions.

The chapters are all a demonstration that the generation of cutting-edge knowledge in this century will continue to rely on quantitative approaches. The presentation of materials is developed in an innovative fashion. Each chapter is presented in the same order in which a new experiment is planned. First, the chapters start simply and elaborate on background facts. Then, methods for collecting experimental data are presented, after which one or more hypotheses are stated. This strategy is supplemented by data expectations and procedures that need to be adopted in case the projected experimental data will deviate from expectations. There is a nice balance between conceptual examples and end-of-the-chapter problems.

This book shows a nice intercalation of the number of fundamental laws, brief descriptions of computational strategies for acquiring quantitative information, as well as their implications in biological physics and areas beyond that. These realms include signaling processes, genetic switches, and cellular oscillators. Therefore, this textbook would serve a fairly broad student population with strong desires for learning physical and mathematical aspects of the life sciences. Physics Models of Living Systems contains an integrated description of fundamental statistical approaches in biological sciences, which will benefit undergraduates as well as others with clear interests in genomics, proteomics, cellular signaling, bioengineering, regenerative medicine, and synthetic biology.

Liviu Movileanu studied physics (1985–1990) and received a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Bucharest (1997). He held postdoctoral positions at the University of Missouri (Kansas City, Missouri, 1997–1998) and the Texas A&M University Health Science Center (College Station, Texas, 1999–2004). He is currently an Associate Professor at Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York), where he teaches physics and biophysics at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He serves as Director of the Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Program in Biophysical Sciences at Syracuse University.