Grant will aid grasp of biophysics for those without calculus background

Grant will aid grasp of biophysics for those without calculus background
September 22, 2008

Phil Brozynski, Media Relations Manager
(630) 829-6094

Remember when you were in high school and no matter how many times your teacher tried to explain quadratic equations you never had any idea what he was talking about? Some of today’s college undergraduates face the same dilemma when it comes to understanding quantitative biophysical concepts. However, Benedictine University physics professor Peter H. Nelson, Ph.D., hopes to change that thanks to a $149,196 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Nelson was recently awarded a three-year National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) grant for his project, “Understanding Biophysics using Excel Simulations.” This grant will help undergraduate students develop an understanding of advanced topics in biophysics even if they do not have a calculus background. “The aim of the project is to develop activity-based modules in which the students are expected to write their own Excel spreadsheets from scratch to solve selected biophysics problems,” Nelson said. “These exercises guide the students through a process of discovery-based active learning. “The benefit is that typical physical and life science undergraduate students can be exposed to important topics in biophysics that are absent from the traditional undergraduate curriculum,” Nelson added. Biophysics is that branch of knowledge that applies the principles of physics and chemistry and the methods of mathematical analysis and computer modeling to understand how biological systems work. Biophysics is a molecular science. It seeks to explain biological function in terms of the molecular structures and properties of specific molecules. “The goals of this project are to develop teaching modules suitable for students both with or without calculus backgrounds, to assess the modules as a learning tool in the actual classroom, to disseminate these modules to the wider teaching community, and to strengthen student understanding of current research techniques,” Nelson said. “This project will also increase interaction between different academic disciplines,” he added. For more information about the National Science Foundation CCLI grant program, visit www.NSF.gov/funding.


Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.