Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences

November 3, 2011

Authors: Peter Atkins and Julio de Paula

Edition: Second

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 590

Price: £34.99

ISBN 9780199564286

Sometimes the most creative scientific research happens at the boundaries between the traditional disciplines. A prime example is the interface between physics, chemistry and biology, from where protein structure determination and rational drug design have emerged. For a scientist like me, with a biological background and an interest in enzyme function, appreciating the chemical and physical properties of an enzyme and its cofactors is essential to understanding its mechanism. Application of physical techniques to the study of enzyme reactions is essential for my research and when, on occasion, the physical chemistry seems daunting, a helping hand is always welcome.

For undergraduates studying life science subjects, Physical Chemistry for the Life Sciences assumes little knowledge beyond A level, guiding the reader smoothly through complex concepts to make them accessible, interesting and, most importantly, relevant. For life scientists whose undergraduate training lacked a strong physical chemistry component, or for whom this was longer ago than they'd care to admit, it will be an invaluable aid to inform their research.

The book is broken down into four broad themes: thermodynamics, kinetics, structure and spectroscopy. Chapters begin by placing the subject matter in a biological context before providing detailed but succinct coverage of relevant material. The text is clearly written such that whole topics can be digested, or chapters dipped into as necessary. Brief illustrations, examples and self-tests consolidate the material without being a diversion.

"Justifications" and "mathematical toolkit" insets allow the reader to follow and understand the mathematical concepts. Case studies take the reader back to the biology, using examples that will be familiar to undergraduate biochemists. "In the laboratory" sections elaborate on how the principles described are applied practically to the study of biological materials.

Each chapter ends with a summary of key concepts and key equations, as well as further coverage of some topics for the avid reader. Finally, plenty of imaginative discussion questions, exercises and extended project questions will satisfy and inspire students and tutors alike, skilfully applying physical chemistry concepts to biological questions.

Visually the book is appealing. Frequent, informative but understated figures complement the text without distracting from it. Concepts, equations and fundamental arguments are clearly presented, and important information is easy to spot at a glance.

This is an ideal accompaniment to undergraduate life science courses with a chemistry or biophysics component. For researchers needing a more in-depth understanding of particular areas of physical chemistry, it will not be sufficient, and suggestions for further reading are limited. However, it will help life scientists understand and appreciate the physical bases of molecular processes, and is so absorbing that it cannot help but enthuse at the same time.

Who is it for? Life science undergraduates and researchers without a strong background in chemistry.

Presentation: Clear, accessible and engaging.

Would you recommend it? Definitely. Having this book on your shelf will deepen your understanding, drawing you in rather than scaring you away.

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