Biophysics is that branch of knowledge that applies the principles of physics and chemistry and the methods of mathematical analysis and computer modeling to biological systems, with the ultimate goal of understanding at a fundamental level the structure, dynamics, interactions, and ultimately the function of biological systems. Biophysics seeks to explain biological function in terms of the physical properties of specific molecules.
Much effort in biophysics is directed to determining the structure and dynamics of specific biological molecules and of the larger architecture into which they assemble. Some of this effort involves inventing new methods and building new instruments for viewing these dynamic structures in action. In addition, biophysicists are increasingly concerned with the mechanical properties of biological systems, on length scales from nanometers to meters.
Biophysics is relevant to medicine, and many biophysicists direct their investigations toward biomolecules that play a key role in disease.
The biological questions of interest to biophysics are as diverse as the organisms of biology:
- How do linear polymers of only 20 different amino acids fold into proteins with precise three-dimensional structures and specific biological functions?
- How does a single, enormously long DNA molecule untwist and exactly replicate itself during cell division?
- How does RNA fold into complex 3-D structures and carry out highly sophisticated transactions when it is composed of four chemically-similar nucleotides?
- How are sound waves, or photons, or odors, or flavors, or touches, detected by a sensory organ and converted into electrical impulses that provide the brain with information about the external world?
- How does a muscle cell convert the chemical energy of ATP hydrolysis into mechanical force and movement?
- How does the cell membrane, a lipid barrier impermeable to water-soluble molecules, selectively transport such molecules through its non-polar interior?
Biophysics seeks to answer these questions using a highly interdisciplinary approach that combines chemical and biochemical analysis for identifying molecules and spectroscopic techniques and computational methods to examine relationships between their physical properties and biological function. In so doing, Biophysics explains biological functions in terms of molecular mechanisms: precise physical descriptions of how individual molecules work together like tiny “nanomachines” to produce specific biological functions.
Waitlist Policy for Biophysics:
Should there be the need for a waitlist, Biophysics majors will be given preference; after which open spots will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis.