What is Biophysics?


          (Image courtesy of Mitchell Lab)

Modern biophysics combines state-of-the-art physical measurements with computational models to understand the detailed physical mechanisms underlying the behavior of complex biological systems. Biophysics is a growing enterprise world-wide, driven primarily by the widespread realization of the major contributions made to biological science by a combination of truly state-of-the-art physical measurements with modern molecular biology.

Membership in the Biophysical Society is now 7000. The field occupies a unique and central position at the intersection of the biological, chemical, physical, and computational sciences. Biophysics is intrinsically interdisciplinary. Biophysics takes a quantitative, physical, non-phenomenological approach to biology that is firmly rooted in the principles of condensed-phase physics and physical chemistry. Biophysicists are driven primarily by their curiosity about how biological systems work at the molecular level. While they routinely employ the methods of molecular biology, their primary focus is on development of novel structural and dynamical tools that enable uniquely incisive studies of systems ranging in complexity from single proteins in vitro to the complex interactions of biopolymers in live cells. Biophysicists as a group most often develop the novel, sophisticated experimental methods that reveal molecular level details with unprecedented clarity.

Biophysics Faculty member, David Schwartz

The state of the art in x-ray crystallography, solution phase and solid-state NMR, atomic force microscopy, single-molecule methods, EPR, and fluorescence microscopy continues to evolve in ways that better elucidate biological structure and function. In parallel, biophysicists are developing powerful new computational tools based on firmly established physical principlesthat are sufficiently accurate to greatly enhance insights from experiment. Just as the tools of molecular biology gradually become useful to biophysicists, over time the new tools developed by biophysicists gradually find widespread use among all biological scientists.