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Introductory Biomechanics Courses

MichelleLOyen's picture

In the early days of biomechanics, there probably were not many dedicated biomechanics courses and instead a regular mechanics curriculum was studied by people interested in tissues and biosystems. However, now that there are so many dedicated bioengineering programs at Universities throughout the world, it seems as though it is more likely that much of students' basic mechanics knowledge comes through dedicated biomechanics courses. This then in turn raises the interesting question of what is taught in these courses? How much classical mechanics is taught, versus content specific to biological materials and systems?

To try and get a feel for the existing approaches, I have been collecting information on biomechanics courses offered at different institutions; here are some examples for which there is a full syllabus available on the web:

If you teach a basic biomechanics course or know of biomechanics courses in your department, could you please add a link to any available information (especially a syllabus) here in the comments section?

Zhigang Suo's picture

Michelle: This is a great topic to discuss. I don't know enough to teach biomechanics, but have noticed that even in my undergraduate mechanics classes many students are interested in biomechanics. Similar is true for my graduate class in solid mechanics. You can get some feel for their interests by looking at their projects for the course. It would be great if I could pick up a few ideas and incorporate them into my regular mechanics classes. Perhaps many other people have similar needs.

I asked a colleague in biology department what textbooks they use in teaching undergraduate biomechanics. Here are two recommendations:

I'd be curious if you or others know other good textbooks or review articles.


VirginiaLFerguson's picture

I gave my first lecture ever on biomechanics this morning and can therefore reflect on my recent experiences in teaching a new, introductory course on biomechanics. The first thing that I covered in my lecture was not the syllabus. I instead I started a discussion with the students on what the study of biomechanics encompasses. I was curious to learn what they think biomechanics means. My class, by the way, is a combined undergraduate (n=31) and graduate (n=18) course. Not surprisingly, many (mostly undergraudate) students view biomechanics as primarily the mechanics of movement of a body / joint / limbs and do not think to include tissue and cellular biomechanics.

In fact, biomechanics is both the study of movement as well as biosolid mechanics, biofluid mechanics, cellular biomechanics, and biomolecular mechanics. The breadth of what is defined by "Biomechanics" thus makes selection of the material to include in an introductory course on biomechanics quite complex. Further complicating the development of the course is the level of knowledge held by the students upon entering the class. The subsequent and more advanced curricular offerings (past the introductory level course) also impact the choice of material. For instance, my institution regularly offers (starting this Spring) an introductory course on biomechanics, but is not actively planning to develop regular courses in biosolids, biofluids, or cellular mechanics. Other schools (e.g., the University of Utah) offer a series of biomechanics courses designed to address hard and soft tissues, fluids, and multiple scales of analysis.

For my introductory level course, I must sacrifice content to account for the limited biomechanics-related curricular offerings here at the Univ. of Colorado: my course and some motion biomechanics-related courses in the Dept. of Integrated Physiology. Without more advanced course offerings, I have several considerations:

1. provide an overview of the key concepts in biomechanics as to not overwhelm undergraduates but to still challenge grad students

2. provide tools to the grad students to combine with education provided by other courses (i.e., continuum or fluid mechanics) such that they can better understand or approach the questions unique to their research.

3. try not to sacrifice too much material - but what is best to omit? It is not possible to cover everything in one, three credit hour introductory course. But this course can definitely be structured to challenge the students and myself!

I am interested in facilitating this discussion started by Michelle and hope to hear responses from others interested in this area... Specifically to address how to best teach our students biomechanics? What is the most essential material to cover? Are tests and conventional homeworks the best approach or is it better to illustrate key principals in class and focus on 'case studies' via published journal articles? (A happy medium likely lies in between the two). Also, how effective is a biomechanics course without a lab component?

I will post my course website (when it is up and running next week) and a brief description of the course content to get feedback and to share my experiences as a first time teacher of biomechanics. In the meantime, to add to the list that Michelle started, is a fairly comprehensive website that already lists biomechanics courses on the web as (and a list of textbooks) at:




Markus J. Buehler's picture

Hi Michelle,

That's a very interesting topic to discuss!

I teach mechanics of biological systems from an atomistic and molecular perspective. Following the goal to advance the fundamental understanding of these complex materials at a molecular scale, I first teach what's known so far for other classes of materials. For example, I teach basic continuum mechanics, discuss how this ties in with fracture mechanics, dislocation theory and related fields.

This naturally sets the state to ask: "What are comparable concepts for biological materials?" Certainly there are great intellectual challenges in this field since the molecular structure is so complex, disordered etc. But students will appreciate the fundamental view in light of the more traditional fields.





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