Calculus for Biologists, M408R, Fall 2014, Unique #s: 55425, 55430

  • Professor: Lorenzo Sadun,
  • Teaching Assistant: Clark Pennie,
  • Lectures: MWF 9:00-10:00, ETC 2.108
  • Discussion sections by unique number:
    55425: TuTh 4-5, UTC 1.132
    55430: TuTh 5-6, UTC 1.132
  • Website:
  • Sadun Office: RLM 9.114
  • Sadun Office Hours: Tu 10-11, Th 2-3
  • TA Office Hours: TBD
  • Phone: 471-7121
  • Text: Calculus in Context, by Callahan et al. Available free online at
  • Prerequisites: The same as for M408N. If you do not meet these conditions, you will be dropped from the class.

  • Goals for the class Calculus has a reputation of being a hard class that features a million different equations to be memorized. Most classes focus on formulas and calculation techniques and then apply them to contrived problems. (Who really cares about the biggest rectangular fence that can be built along a river using a fixed amount of fencing material?) Instead, we're going to start with some real-world examples, like the spread of an epidemic or the devastation caused by a recent flood, and develop the ideas needed to deal with these examples.

    In this class, you won't be asked to compute the integral of the arcsine of x, or apply the limit comparison test for the convergence of an infinite series. However, you will be expected to understand what derivatives and integrals means, how to get a computer to approximate them numerically, and how to model real-world problems using them.

    Put another way, there are three questions associated with every mathematical idea in existence:

    1. What is it?
    2. How do you compute it?
    3. What is it good for?
    Compared to most math classes, we're going to spend a lot more time on the first and third questions, and a lot less on the second. By the end of the semester, I expect you to understand the six basic ideas that calculus is based on, which I call the six pillars of calculus:
    1. Close is good enough (limits)
    2. Track the changes (derivatives)
    3. What goes up has to stop before is can come down (max/min)
    4. The whole is the sum of the parts (integrals)
    5. The whole change is the sum of the partial changes (fundamental theorem)
    6. One variable at a time.
    I expect you to learn how to use these ideas. As for formulas, I expect you to learn the easy ones, know where to look up some more complicated ones, and above all, know how to get a qualitative feel for the solutions without every using a formula. That's what's going to help you in your careers in biology.

    There will be in-class midterm exams on Wednesday, September 24, Friday October 24 (a little over a week before drop day), and Friday November 21.

    The final exam will be on Friday morning, December 12, 9-12.

    * Handouts and Other Course Information

  • First Day Handout
  • Course Schedule
  • Worksheets, Individual HW assignments, and Mini-Projects
  • Matlab m-files
  • The Quest server. That's where you do the learning modules/preclass assignments.
  • The math department Calculus Lab page.
  • My Youtube channel with about 300 math videos, including almost all the videos that appear in the Quest learning modules for M408R.
  • The Sanger Center, a great source of (mostly) free help.

  • Our actual first midterm, both with and without solutions.
  • The makeup midterm, and the makeup midterm solutions
  • Our actual second midterm, both with and without solutions.
  • Our actual third midterm, both with and without solutions.
  • Our actual final exam, both with and without solutions.
  • The Philae Lander problem, both with and without solutions.
  • The horizontal slicing problem, both with and without solutions.
  • Some integration by parts problems, with solutions.