Introduction to Physical Chemistry with a Biological Focus – BCH341 at Arizona State University.



Hi, I am Professor Jeff Yarger and I am a pchemist.  I have been a professor in the general area of physical chemistry for 20 years.  The subject is often abbreviated with the acronym ‘pchem’ and since this course has focus on biochemistry, I have added to the acronym to call it ‘BioPchem’.  Physical chemistry is commonly summarized by three general scientific fundamental topics: (1) The macroscopic theory of THERMODYNAMICS, (2) The atomic (microscopic) theory of QUANTUM MECHANICS, and (3) the theory that links the microscopic to the macroscopic, STATISTICAL MECHANICS.  Also, lets throw one more major topic into this group and that is the theory of CHEMICAL KINETICS, which is much practical importance for helping define and understand timescales that are not accounted for in general equilibrium thermodynamics.


All four areas are crucial to a fundamental understanding of biochemistry.  BCH341 will not be able to cover all four areas in the limited time provided for the course.  So, while all these topic areas are important, one could argue that the most commonly used and practical of these topics is THERMODYNAMICS, and hence that will be the focus of BCH341.  There is a separate course at ASU titled ‘BioPhysical Chemistry’ (BCH 463) that will cover quantum mechanics as it relates most directly and practically to biochemistry.  For consistency, BCH341 will use as its primary resource a book titled ‘BioPhysical Chemistry’ by Prof. James P. Allen at ASU.  This is typically the book used in BCH463 and covers all four of the major topics in BioPchem.

While a molecular level, ‘bottom up’, approach often seems the most applicable to chemistry, it is still the macroscopic world that we most interact with and most need to understand.  Therefore, thermodynamics is one of the first fundamental theory’s a student must understand in order to practice chemistry and/or biochemistry.

One of my favorite quotes regarding thermodynamics is given by Albert Einstein:

“A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression that classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced will never be overthrown, within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts.” – Albert Einstein

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