Philip C. Nelson

Biological Physics, University of Pennsylvania

About Me

My Books



Physical Models of Living Systems

Second ed., revised, clarified, updated, and enlarged (Chiliagon Science, 2022). Available as an e-book from Amazon. For a hard copy, check this link. The new edition is available in Chinese translation: 生命系统的物理建模(第二版) at these two links.

Responses to the new edition:

"What I find special about this book is its elegance in transitioning from fundamental math to applications in biology and the analysis of real-world data. The book chapters integrate together beautifully and the problem sets are a rare asset." -- Prof. Amir Erez, Hebrew University

"An excellent book, well written and beautifully illustrated.... Lots of homework problems, comparisons to real data, and a winning combination of words, pictures, equations, and computer code... a masterpiece." -- Prof. Bradley Roth, Univ. of Oakland

"A wonderful textbook. It stretches life science students to not only see but also understand how randomness at the heart of living systems can lead to predictable outcomes. Students in my class, taught using PMLS, found the text to be intellectually challenging and, as a result, interesting and memorable." -- Prof. Douglas Martin, Lawrence University

Reviews of the first edition:

"Particularly compelling for its smooth integration of biological experiments, physical models, and computational exercises. Readers who complete the text will be well equipped with the computational and mathematical skills needed for a quantitative understanding of a range of biological systems.... Thanks to Nelson's skillful writing and the excellent accompanying online resources, this book will appeal to a broad audience and teach even a beginner how to solve problems numerically." -- Eva-Maria Collins in Physics Today

"Philip Nelson has done a terrific job.... There are numerous traits that make this text unique among the very many books of biological physics.... The presentation of materials is developed in an innovative fashion.... There is a nice balance between conceptual examples and end-of-the-chapter problems.... Physical Models of Living Systems.... will benefit undergraduates as well as others with clear interests in genomics, proteomics, cellular signaling, bioengineering, regenerative medicine, and synthetic biology." -- Liviu Movileanu in American Journal of Physics 84 (6), June 2016

"[T]his excellent book will appeal to both students and professional scientists in the field of quantitative biology.... [T]he book feels personal in its selection of topics and the training journey on which it takes its readership. In our opinion, the combination of this uniqueness with technical accuracy makes the book a noteworthy and valuable addition to resources for advanced biophysics education... [T]he book conveys rich information, is clearly structured, and provides comprehensive data sets... Nelson shows how computational programming can be used effectively in modeling biological systems at the cellular and molecular levels." -- Dietlind L. Gerloff and Jonghoon Kang. Cell Biology Education (2016) vol. 15 (4) pp. fe11-fe11.

Student's Guide to Python

Student's Guide to Python for Physical Modeling, Second Edition

(with Jesse M. Kinder) (Princeton Univ. Press, 2021; ISBN: 9780691223650). You can get from Princeton. E-book editions are available from Amazon and other distributors. For price comparisons see nicebooks.

Besides many clarifications and updates, this new edition adds sections on elementary data science, pandas, version control, and user-defined classes. As with the first edition, however, our aim remains for the main text to be short, basic, and suitable for science students, even those who have never programmed before. A student who spends a week working through this book will get many basic skills that we as scientists use constantly, with the free and open-source Python platform that is becoming the computing environment of choice for many.

The book has an associated blog. Chapter 1 is freely available. A Chinese-language translation of the first edition is available, and also a Korean-language edition.

"An excellent stepping stone into the world of using Python in computational science... After working through the chapters and their accompanying exercises, readers can expect not only to know how to write and read Python but also to achieve a thorough understanding for developing complex physical models and calculations." - Kevin Thielen and Vivienne Tien in "Computing in Science & Engineering" May/June 2016



Biological Physics Student Edition: Energy, Information, Life

Revised, clarified, and updated (Chiliagon Science, 2022). Contents and prefaces are here. Chapter 1 is freely available.

The e-book is available for $9.99 from Amazon. Its ISBN number is 978-0-578-69547-1.

The paperback book is available for suggested retail $29.00 from the usual online retailers. University bookstores and libraries can get it from Ingram using its ISBN number: 978-0-578-68702-5.

"This clear and well-structured text emphasizes the connections between statistical mechanics and biophysical phenomena." -- R. Parthasarathy, in Am. J. Physics 2021

The new edition is available in translation: 生物物理学(第二版)at these two links.

"This book inspired me to write [my] book in the first place. Biological Physics is the most interesting and well-written textbook I have ever read." -- Peter M. Hoffman, Life's Ratchet



From Photon to Neuron: Light, Imaging, Vision

(Princeton Univ. Press, 2017). The hard copy edition is available from Princeton. There is an e-book edition, available for Kindle or via Google Play. The Contents, "To the Student," and "To the Instructor" are freely available here as well as Chapter 1. Three additional chapters are freely available in preliminary form.

A Chinese language translation is available: 从光子到神经元:光、成像、视觉.

"From Photon to Neuron: Light, Imaging, Vision completes a trilogy begun by Biological Physics and Physical Models of Living Systems. Those works establish Nelson as the preeminent author of textbooks at the intersection of physics and biology... Nelson uses words, pictures, formulas, and code to teach students how to construct models and interpret data. His books provide a master class in how to integrate those four different approaches into a complete learning experience." -- Brad Roth, in Physics Today magazine

"A thorough and sweeping tour from the fundamental physics of light to the neurobiology of the retina... Lavishly illustrated and carefully explained." -- Sönke Johnsen, Biology, Duke University, in American Journal of Physics

"As elegant as it is deep. A masterful tour of the science of light and vision, it goes beyond artificial boundaries between disciplines and presents all aspects of light as it appears in physics, chemistry, biology and the neural sciences... One of the most insightful, cross-disciplinary texts I have read in many years. It is mesmerising and will become a landmark in rigorous, but highly accessible interdisciplinary literature." -- Luis Alvarez-Gaumé, Stony Brook University, in CERN Courier

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