Life: An Interwoven Tapestry of the Four Sciences

Image by Suhaan S.

The fundamental disciplines of education—Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math—are like Venn diagrams. They seem to be in their union, but they overlap or intersect perfectly into beautiful patterns at one point or the other. Biology, especially, seems to be deeply interwoven with other disciplines. I realized this when I started to see patterns emerge between what I learned in AP Biology and other classes such as Chemistry, Physics, and, to my surprise, Math!

Merriam-Webster defines Biology as the study of life; more specifically, it is a branch of knowledge that deals with living organisms and vital processes; Chemistry is the study of composition, structure, and properties—deep within life.

I was confused, at first, on why we were learning about water and carbon again. I have done this for the past three years in my chemistry classes. I knew what a hydrogen bond was; I knew that carbon could make up to four bonds in a beautiful tetrahedral structure. But what I didn’t know was why they were important? I realized that when we zoom out of the tiny atomic world and put on the lens of biology, we start to see that biology is the application of chemistry. I learned that hydrogen bonds in water are responsible for its array of properties: cohesion in xylem, surface tension in striders, high specific heat for the moderation of temperature and high polarity, etc. While water is the molecule of life, carbon is the element of life. In chemistry, I learned that carbon’s four valence electrons are responsible for each of the bond carbon makes; Biology states that repeating these bonds over and over with other carbons and molecules starts to form the basis of life. From life’s simplest carbon dioxide to the macromolecules, everything contains carbon. Integration of Biology and Chemistry is not just limited to these two concepts. Activation energies, equilibrium reactions, acids, and bases, IMFs are all the intersections between Biology and Chemistry.

Physics is the science that deals with matter and energy and their interactions.

Connections between Chemistry and Biology were obvious. But how does biology overlap with physics? Everything I learned in physics involved the collision of cars, a ball thrown into space, and all that macro-world stuff; Everything I learned in AP Biology involved water molecules, enzymes, and all the micro-world stuff. Where is the connection? There is a connection. All the physics that defines a macro-world should apply to the micro-world. For instance, AP Physics 2 involves studying electromagnetic forces of two charges, and we learned in Biology that specific proteins have charged-R Groups. How will the charges interact? Physics has the answer. Consider the following simulation below.

The Glutamic acid (-) and the Histidine are opposite charges, so according to Coulomb’s law, they should have an attraction force. And each Histidine should repel each other. These attractive and repulsive forces, defined by physics, play an essential role in protein modeling involved in life. Another situation where one can relate AP Biology to AP Physics is how increasing temperature affects a reaction. In the Enzyme activity lab, we have seen that increasing the reaction’s temperature increases activity in the reaction. How does it work? Physics states that increasing the temperature increases the “Kinetic Energy in a System,” making it more likely for the reactants to cross the activation energy barrier. The spontaneity—Gibbs Free Energy— of a system, bioluminescence, or electricity of the nervous system are all physics applications. All the interactions, mechanics, etc. overlap between the sets of Biology and Physics.

Image from Mr. Mohn

What messes my mind is how math, something so abstract and purely imaginary, overlap with Biology, which is so concrete and physical? That’s when my light bulb turned lit up like a Christmas tree:

  1. The topics in biostatistics from AP Biology are very similar to my AP Stats class.
  2. The geometry, topology, and other physical characteristics of DNA, proteins, and cellular structures are nothing but pure math.

  3. Gazillions, or more (20^100), types of proteins forming from only 20 amino acids are the results of permutations and combinations I learned in my pre-calc class.

Every pattern in life, every number in biology, is the direct result of pure math.

Biology is extensively woven with other disciplines. Whether living, dead or extinct, organisms’ function because of their combined biological, chemical, physical, and mathematical elements. Understandings from these disciplines provide insights into the evolutionary and structural characteristics of organisms and beyond.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

This entry was written by Suhaan S. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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