Course Descriptions

Biophysics 115 — (In)organic Nutrition

(3 credits)

Life (at least as we know it) would be impossible without about 20 "trace elements." These are "inorganic" (as opposed to "organic," or carbon based) chemicals. We will explore what roles these elements play, and what happens if they aren't present.

This first year seminar* also looks at elements, not normally found in biology, that can be important both in causing disease (i.e., environmental toxins) and in curing disease (e.g., anti-cancer drugs).

*First year seminars are open to Freshmen only.

Biophysics 116 — Introduction to Medical Imaging

(3 credits)

This first year seminar* surveys the methods of modern medical imaging for clinical and scientific purposes, highlighting basic concepts in chemistry, physics, and biochemistry and especially the biophysical foundations upon which all current tools for biomedical imaging rest. Topics include the underlying science of radiography, computed tomography (X-rays of a selected plane of the body), diagnostic ultrasound, and nuclear medicine. We study magnetic resonance imaging in the context of its historical development and through “reverse engineering.” i.e. understanding how the images are created. This seminar also touches on the societal implications of imaging such as radiation risks, health care costs, and future directions in medical research.

*First year seminars are open to Freshmen only.

Biophysics 120 — The Discovery of the DNA Double Helix and its Hidden Mysteries

(3 credits)

This course introduces students to the field of biophysics and its role in the life sciences. The historical example of the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick is discussed, and students will have the opportunity to re-create the original experiments that led to the discovery of how DNA governs inheritance. BIOPHYS 120 will be taught in a format that combines lectures, demonstration experiments, and hands-on student experiments.

Biophysics 290 — Physics of the Body and Mind

(3 credits)

This course covers how the human body functions and malfunctions from a physics perspective by applying basic physical principles to organs, cells, and biomolecules. It employs extensive A/V and CAI material, and is intended for Biophysics majors and/or students interested in the application of physics to biology, biochemistry, physiology, psychology, genetics, medicine, bioengineering and related life sciences. It provides an introduction to topics in biomechanics, biophysics, and medical physics including biosensors.

Biophysics 370 — Physical and Chemical Principles Behind Biology and Medicine

(3 credits)

This course introduces students to the microscopic and macroscopic aspects of matter, especially the Schrödinger equation, H atom, chemical bonds, entropy, free energy, partition function, diffusion and rate equations discussed quantitatively. It also covers the basic principles of spectroscopy (electronic, vibrational, rotational and magnetic resonance).

This course is designed to teach the basics of Physics and Chemistry sufficient for biophysics concentrators. It also will prepare students to learn and apply biophysical approaches to understand biochemical, biotechnology and medical problems. This course presents concepts in the natural sciences including microscopic and macroscopic aspects of matter, basic principles of spectroscopy (electronic, vibrational, rotational and magnetic resonance), and some applications to understand biological, biotechnology and medical systems on the nano-scale.

Biophysics 399 - Research in Biophysics

(1-4 credits)

Research in a modern research laboratory, under the direction and supervision of a faculty member, is a required part of the Biophysics curriculum to prepare students adequately for their future careers as a biophysicist in academic or industrial research.

This course number is used for an individualized research experience under the guidance of a Biophysics faculty member.  If a non-Biophysics faculty member serves as the principal mentor, a Biophysics faculty member must be identified as a co-mentor. Students need permission from their biophysics faculty mentor before they can enroll in this course. Typically, students will work on a small, well-defined project that may subsequently turn into a senior or honor's thesis. 

The student is expected to work on a research project under the direct supervision of the faculty mentor, who accepts responsibility for all aspects of the student's work. Each credit hour is equivalent to at least four hours a week of actual work in the lab for a 14 week term (minimum 50 hours per term-credit hour). The faculty mentor may delegate some day-to-day supervisory functions to a post-doc or graduate student, but the mentor is nonetheless expected to meet regularly with the student and monitor his or her progress. The mentor is also responsible for assigning a grade at the end of the semester. In case of co-mentorship for a project under the guidance of a non-Biophysics faculty member, the Biophysics co-mentor is expected to take responsibility for the overall appropriateness of the project, ensure that the principal mentor fulfills his or her mentoring obligations towards the student, and, in consultation with the principal mentor, assign a grade.

Students are required to submit a one-page report on his or her research project at the end of the semester.  Reports are submitted both to the faculty mentor and to the Biophysics main office for student records.

Biophysics 417 — Dynamical Processes in Biophysics

(3 credits)

The physical basis of diffusive processes in biology and biochemistry, and optical spectroscopic means for measuring its rates. Topics include: membrane electrical potentials, nerve impulses, synaptic transmission, the physics of chemoreception by cells, motion and reaction kinetics of membrane components, optical microscopy, visible and UV light absorption, fluorescence and phosphorescence, quasielastic light scattering, mathematics of random fluctuations, and chaotic processes in biology.

Biophysics 430 — Medical Physics

(3 credits)

This course introduces biomedical imaging techniques and medical physics based therapies, elucidates the physical principles behind them, and discusses the interaction of different kinds of radiation with biological matter. Examples for covered imaging techniques are ultrasound, X-ray imaging, CAT scan, MRI imaging, and positron emission tomography. Relevant radiotherapy methods include the gamma knife, brachytherapy, and proton-beam therapy.

Biophysics 433 — Biocomplexity

(3 credits)

This course explores concepts of nonlinear dynamics in biological systems. It covers fixed points, logistic maps, chaotic oscillators, waves in excitable media and spatio-temporal pattern formation in biological systems ranging from cells to organs such as the brain and populations.

Biophysics 435 — Biophysical Modeling

(3 credits)

This course introduces students to the basic concepts of biophysical modeling. Methods such as molecular dynamics and Brownian Dynamics simulations, as well as larger-scale models for regulatory networks are covered and the associated computational tools are introduced.

Biophysics 440 — Biophysics of Diseases

(3 credits)

This course deconstructs current and emerging diseases in terms of the malfunctioning of nucleic acids, proteins, and membranes and interactions between them. The diseases covered will include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (or Mad-Cow disease), HIV, a variety of bacterial infections, and other biological disorders. A variety of biophysical methods for dissecting diseases at the atomic level will be surveyed, including NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, single molecule imaging, and computational methods.

The course will emphasize how a basic biophysical understanding of diseases can guide the rational design of therapeutics, to include:

  • Infectious diseases
  • The Molecules of Life: Biophysical Principles
  • Viral Infections
  • Bacterial Infections
  • Health Conditions
  • Rational Approaches to Drug Discovery

Biophysics 450 — Introduction to the Biophysics Laboratory

(3 credits)

This hands-on course teaches essential laboratory skills in Biophysics. Experiments cover sample preparation techniques, such as protein expression and purification; modern research methods such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, NMR, X-ray crystallography, and computational techniques such as molecular dynamics simulation. The final project will allow students to explore a topic of interest in greater depth.

Biophysics 454 — Biophysical Chemistry II: Macromolecular Structure and Dynamics

(3 credits)

This course builds on the CHEM 451-453 sequence and aims at providing an understanding of the structure and dynamics of biological macromolecules. After introducing the necessary nomenclature and reviewing thermodynamic principles, modern techniques to characterize the structure and dynamics of biopolymers is the focus. Sedimentation, electrophoresis, mass spectrometry, X-ray diffraction, scattering, and spectroscopic techniques such as absorption, circular dichroism, fluorescence, and NMR are covered. Both physical principles and practical applications in the Life Sciences are highlighted.

Biophysics 463 - Mathematical Modeling in Biology

(3 credits)

The complexity of the biological sciences makes interdisciplinary involvement essential and the increasing use of mathematics in biology is inevitable as biology becomes more quantitative. Mathematical biology is a fast growing and exciting modern application of mathematics which has gained worldwide recognition. In this course, mathematical models that suggest possible mechanisms which may underlie specific biological processes are developed and analyzed. Another major emphasis of the course is illustrating how these models can be used to predict what may follow under currently untested conditions. The course moves from classical to contemporary models at the population, organ, cellular, and molecular levels.

Biophysics 495 — Senior Seminar (Professional Development in Biophysics)

(2 credits)

This course teaches professional skills such as writing research articles, reviews, grant proposals, and preparing and giving poster presentations and scientific talks. The scientific publishing process, including peer review, will be discussed and ethical rules and considerations explored. All students will draft an application for an NSF Graduate Fellowship, which will be extensively critiqued by other students and the instructor.

Biophysics 498 - Senior Thesis

(1-4 credits)

This course gives Biophysics majors (at the senior level) the opportunity to cap their educational experience with a senior thesis based on their research. It will typically be a continuation of Biophysics 399.

Biophysics 499 - Honors Thesis

(1-4 credits)

This course gives Biophysics Honors concentrators (at the senior level) the opportunity to cap their educational experience with an honors thesis based on their research. It is typically a continuation of Biophysics 399.