Biological organisms are open thermodynamic systems with metabolism.
Therefore, most processes are not in equilibrium. Thermodynamic forces and
fluxes drive biological processes under consumption of energy and
dissipation of entropy. Such processes are irreversible. The understanding
of nonequilibrium processes is important to analyze molecular reactions,
protein function and metabolism in biology. This course introduces into
the thermodynamics of irreversible processes and into the application of
these concepts to elementary biological reactions (e.g. ion channel
activities and ion pumps). Under certain conditions stable fluxes
(stationary states) develop, or dissipative structures can form. Criteria
for defining such states are formulated.
As an important example, this course also introduces into the foundations
of the physics of nerve pulses. This includes the treatment of the basic
physical features of nerves, electrical conductance through cell
membranes, cable theory, ion channels and the Hodgkin-Huxley model in
particular, which forms the nonequilibrium basis of the accepted models
for the action potential. We contrast this classical theory of nerves by
an adiabatic thermodynamic treatment of nerves leading to the possibility
of solitons in membranes, thus forming an alternative basis for the origin
of the nervous pulse that is based on reversible physics. The difference
between reversible and dissipative processes is discussed. This includes
channel activities and their lifetimes.
For physicists, chemists, biochemists and related subject after the
There will be handouts that are sufficient for understanding. The
following is recommended reading:
"Modern Thermodynamics: From Heat Engines to Dissipative Structures
(Paperback) by D. Kondepudi and I. Prigogine"
- Selected publications by Onsager, Einstein, Prigogine,
Hodgkin and Huxley etc.