B18.00004. The Purpose of Homework Problems is Insight, Not Numbers: Crafting Exercises for an Intermediate Biological Physics Class

Presented by: Bradley Roth


Richard Hamming famously said “The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.” This view is true also for homework problems in an intermediate-level physics class. I constantly tell my students “an equation is not something you plug numbers into to get other numbers; it tells a story.” I will use examples from courses in Biological Physics and Medical Physics to illustrate this idea. A well-formed homework problem must balance brevity with storytelling. Often the problem is constructed by creating a “toy model” of an important biological system, and analysis of the toy model reveals some important idea or insight. A collection of such problems becomes a short-course in mathematical modeling as applied to medicine and biology, which is a skill that needs to be cultivated in biology majors, pre-med students, and anyone interested in using physical and mathematical tools to study biology and medicine.


  • Bradley Roth


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