UNIT I. Quantifying natural phenomena - number, measure, size, and physical law
The constraints imposed by nature crucially depend on size and shape – an ant experiences a fundamentally different ‘nature’ compared to an elephant. Therefore, we will first examine the role of quantitative measurements of size, shape and motion in analysing natural phenomena. The importance of dimensions, units, scales and measures will be emphasized with examples from a variety of physical systems, both natural and man-made.The remarkable success of the physical sciences is built on the foundation of physical laws that relate measurable quantities such as mass and motion. Here we will recount key physical laws such as Newton’s laws of motion and, after a brief epistemological excursion on concepts such as ‘force’, move onto the practical use of such laws in measuring, relating and understanding the inner workings of living organisms.
Unit II. Life immersed in fluids
All of life, be it aquatic, terrestrial or airborne, is immersed in 'fluids' - gases or liquids. The nature, behaviour and properties of fluids therefore influence life in a very direct way. In this unit, we will learn about the behavior of gases, the forces on objects in water or air, phenomena such as buoyancy and gas dissolution in liquids, and the incredibly weird world at fluid interfaces. This will help us evaluate and answer very diverse questions quantitatively, such as why an insect can walk on water but a man cannot, why one cannot use a snorkel at great depths, why some fish can stay afloat in water without moving while others need to swim continuously, and many others.
Unit III. Life in and around moving fluids
Fluid motion is ubiquitous in living organisms of all shapes and sizes, whether it is as internal circulation of blood in mammals or externally in the bizarre swimming behaviour of aquatic insects. Here we will first look at the tremendous diversity of fluid motion around organisms, from swimming microorganisms to whales. We will then move onto the fundamentals of fluid motion, learning the key physical ideas, equations and principles that govern it in several different contexts. At the end of this unit, we will be well equipped to quantitatively address several different phenomena - from drinking in tiny insects, blood flow in animals, swimming and flying in organisms and machines, to the design of medical implants and sky-diving tunnels!