Biophysics is an interdisciplinary science that applies approaches and methods traditionally used in physics to study biological phenomena.[1][2][3] Biophysics covers all scales of biological organization, from molecular to organismic and populations. Biophysical research shares significant overlap with biochemistry, molecular biology, physical chemistry, physiology, nanotechnology, bioengineering, computational biology, biomechanics, developmental biology and systems biology.

The term biophysics was originally introduced by Karl Pearson in 1892.[4][5] Ambiguously, the term biophysics is also regularly used in academia to indicate the study of the physical quantities (e.g. electric current, temperature, stress, entropy) in biological systems, which is, by definition, performed by physiology. Nevertheless, other biological sciences also perform research on the biophysical properties of living organisms including molecular biology, cell biology, biophysics, and biochemistry.


Molecular biophysics typically addresses biological questions similar to those in biochemistry and molecular biology, seeking to find the physical underpinnings of biomolecular phenomena. Scientists in this field conduct research concerned with understanding the interactions between the various systems of a cell, including the interactions between DNA, RNA and protein biosynthesis, as well as how these interactions are regulated. A great variety of techniques are used to answer these questions.

Fluorescent imaging techniques, as well as electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM) and small-angle scattering (SAS) both with X-rays and neutrons (SAXS/SANS) are often used to visualize structures of biological significance. Protein dynamics can be observed by neutron spin echo spectroscopy. Conformational change in structure can be measured using techniques such as dual polarisation interferometry, circular dichroism, SAXS and SANS. Direct manipulation of molecules using optical tweezers or AFM, can also be used to monitor biological events where forces and distances are at the nanoscale. Molecular biophysicists often consider complex biological events as systems of interacting entities which can be understood e.g. through statistical mechanics, thermodynamics and chemical kinetics. By drawing knowledge and experimental techniques from a wide variety of disciplines, biophysicists are often able to directly observe, model or even manipulate the structures and interactions of individual molecules or complexes of molecules.

In addition to traditional (i.e. molecular and cellular) biophysical topics like structural biology or enzyme kinetics, modern biophysics encompasses an extraordinarily broad range of research, from bioelectronics to quantum biology involving both experimental and theoretical tools. It is becoming increasingly common for biophysicists to apply the models and experimental techniques derived from physics, as well as mathematics and statistics, to larger systems such as tissues, organs,[6] populations[7] and ecosystems. Biophysical models are used extensively in the study of electrical conduction in single neurons, as well as neural circuit analysis in both tissue and whole brain.

Medical physics, a branch of biophysics, is any application of physics to medicine or healthcare, ranging from radiology to microscopy and nanomedicine. For example, physicist Richard Feynman theorized about the future of nanomedicine. He wrote about the idea of a medical use for biological machines (see nanomachines). Feynman and Albert Hibbs suggested that certain repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it would be possible to (as Feynman put it) "swallow the doctor". The idea was discussed in Feynman's 1959 essay There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.[8]


Some of the earlier studies in biophysics were conducted in the 1840s by a group known as the Berlin school of physiologists. Among its members were pioneers such as Hermann von Helmholtz, Ernst Heinrich Weber, Carl F. W. Ludwig, and Johannes Peter Müller.[9] Biophysics might even be seen as dating back to the studies of Luigi Galvani.

The popularity of the field rose when the book What Is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger was published. Since 1957, biophysicists have organized themselves into the Biophysical Society which now has about 9,000 members over the world.[10]

Some authors such as Robert Rosen criticize biophysics on the ground that the biophysical method does not take into account the specificity of biological phenomena.[11]

Focus as a subfield

While some colleges and universities have dedicated departments of biophysics, usually at the graduate level, many do not have university-level biophysics departments, instead having groups in related departments such as biochemistry, cell biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, molecular biology, neuroscience, pharmacology, physics, and physiology. Depending on the strengths of a department at a university differing emphasis will be given to fields of biophysics. What follows is a list of examples of how each department applies its efforts toward the study of biophysics. This list is hardly all inclusive. Nor does each subject of study belong exclusively to any particular department. Each academic institution makes its own rules and there is much overlap between departments.

Many biophysical techniques are unique to this field. Research efforts in biophysics are often initiated by scientists who were biologists, chemists or physicists by training.

See also


  1. ^ "Biophysics | science". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  2. ^ Zhou HX (March 2011). "Q&A: What is biophysics?". BMC Biology. 9: 13. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-13. PMC 3055214. PMID 21371342.
  3. ^ "the definition of biophysics". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  4. ^ Pearson, Karl (1892). The Grammar of Science. p. 470.
  5. ^ Roland Glaser. Biophysics: An Introduction. Springer; 23 April 2012. ISBN 978-3-642-25212-9.
  6. ^ Sahai, Erik; Trepat, Xavier (July 2018). "Mesoscale physical principles of collective cell organization". Nature Physics. 14 (7): 671–682. doi:10.1038/s41567-018-0194-9. ISSN 1745-2481.
  7. ^ Popkin, Gabriel (2016-01-07). "The physics of life". Nature News. 529 (7584): 16. doi:10.1038/529016a.
  8. ^ Feynman RP (December 1959). "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom". Archived from the original on 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  9. ^ Franceschetti DR (15 May 2012). Applied Science. Salem Press Inc. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-58765-781-8.
  10. ^ Rosen J, Gothard LQ (2009). Encyclopedia of Physical Science. Infobase Publishing. p. 4 9. ISBN 978-0-8160-7011-4.
  11. ^ Longo G, Montévil M (2012-01-01). "The Inert vs. the Living State of Matter: Extended Criticality, Time Geometry, Anti-Entropy - An Overview". Frontiers in Physiology. 3: 39. doi:10.3389/fphys.2012.00039. PMC 3286818. PMID 22375127.


  • Perutz MF (1962). Proteins and Nucleic Acids: Structure and Function. Amsterdam: Elsevier. ASIN B000TS8P4G.
  • Perutz MF (May 1969). "The Croonian Lecture, 1968. The haemoglobin molecule". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 173 (1031): 113–40. Bibcode:1969RSPSB.173..113P. doi:10.1098/rspb.1969.0043. PMID 4389425.
  • Dogonadze RR, Urushadze ZD (1971). "Semi-Classical Method of Calculation of Rates of Chemical Reactions Proceeding in Polar Liquids". J Electroanal Chem. 32 (2): 235–245. doi:10.1016/S0022-0728(71)80189-4.
  • Volkenshtein MV, Dogonadze R, Madumarov AK, Urushadze ZD, Kharkats YI (1972). "Theory of Enzyme Catalysis". Molekuliarnaya Biologia. Moscow. 6: 431–439. In Russian, English summary. Available translations in Italian, Spanish, English, French
  • Rodney M. J. Cotterill (2002). Biophysics : An Introduction. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-48538-4.
  • Sneppen K, Zocchi G (2005-10-17). Physics in Molecular Biology (1 ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84419-2.
  • Glaser R (2004-11-23). Biophysics: An Introduction (Corrected ed.). Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-67088-9.
  • Hobbie RK, Roth BJ (2006). Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology (4th ed.). Springer. ISBN 978-0-387-30942-2.
  • Cooper WG (August 2009). "Evidence for transcriptase quantum processing implies entanglement and decoherence of superposition proton states". Bio Systems. 97 (2): 73–89. doi:10.1016/j.biosystems.2009.04.010. PMID 19427355.
  • Cooper WG (December 2009). "Necessity of quantum coherence to account for the spectrum of time-dependent mutations exhibited by bacteriophage T4". Biochemical Genetics. 47 (11–12): 892–910. doi:10.1007/s10528-009-9293-8. PMID 19882244.
  • Goldfarb D (2010). Biophysics Demystified. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-163365-9.

External links

Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics

The Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "for outstanding contributions in biophysics". Named in honor of Alexander Hollaender, it has been awarded every three years since 1998.

Bei Shizhang

Bei Shizhang (simplified Chinese: 贝时璋; traditional Chinese: 貝時璋; pinyin: Bèi Shízhāng; Wade–Giles: Pei Shih-chang; October 10, 1903 – October 29, 2009), or Shi-Zhang Bei, was a Chinese biologist and educator. He was an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He was born in Zhenhai, Zhejiang province, on October 10, 1903. He was the oldest member of both the Academia Sinica and the Chinese Academy of Sciences at the time of his death. He was the founder, the first chief director and honorary director of the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He was a pioneer of Chinese cytology, embryology and the founder of Chinese biophysics. He was considered the "Father of Chinese Biophysics". The asteroid 31065 Beishizhang was named in his honour on the occasion of his 100th birthday. He obtained his doctorate from University of Tübingen in 1928.

Biochimica et Biophysica Acta

Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) is a peer-reviewed scientific journal in the field of biochemistry and biophysics that was established in 1947. The journal is published by Elsevier with a total of 100 annual issues in nine specialised sections.

Biophysical Society

The Biophysical Society is an international scientific society whose purpose is to encourage the development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. Founded in 1958, the society currently consists of over 9,000 researchers in academia, government, and industry. Although the Society is based in the United States, it is an international organization. Overseas members currently comprise over one third of the total.

Biophysical chemistry

Biophysical chemistry is a physical science that uses the concepts of physics and physical chemistry for the study of biological systems. The most common feature of the research in this subject is to seek explanation of the various phenomena in biological systems in terms of either the molecules that make up the system or the supra-molecular structure of these systems.

Heineken Prizes

The Heineken Prizes for Arts and Sciences consist of eleven awards biannually bestowed by Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The prizes are named in honor of Henry Pierre Heineken, son of founder Gerard Adriaan Heineken, Alfred Heineken, former chairman of Heineken Holdings and Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, current chair of the Heineken Prizes Foundations which fund all Heineken Prizes for Arts and Sciences. Thirteen winners of the Dr H. P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics or the Dr A. H. Heineken Prize for Medicine have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

List of members of the National Academy of Sciences (Biophysics and computational biology)

This list is a subsection of the List of members of the National Academy of Sciences, which includes approximately 2,000 members and 350 foreign associates of the United States National Academy of Sciences, each of whom is affiliated with one of 31 disciplinary sections. Each person's name, primary institution, and election year are given.

Max Planck Institute of Biophysics

The Max Planck Institute of Biophysics (German: Max-Planck-Institut für Biophysik) is located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was founded as Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biophysics in 1937, and moved into a new building in 2003. It is one of 80 institutes in the Max Planck Society (Max Planck Gesellschaft).

A prerequisite for the understanding of the fundamental processes of life is the knowledge of the structure of the participating macromolecules. Two of the four departments are devoted to the challenging task of determining the structure of membrane proteins. Under the direction of Hartmut Michel (Nobel Prize in Chemistry of 1988 for the first structure determination of a membrane protein), the Department of Molecular Membrane Biology approaches this problem primarily by x-ray crystallography, whereas the Department of Structural Biology, headed by Werner Kühlbrandt, uses the complementary technique of electron microscopy. The Department of Biophysical Chemistry, directed by Ernst Bamberg, studies the function of these proteins in native or reconstituted membranes by electrophysiological and spectroscopic methods. The fourth department "Molecular Neurogenetics" under the direction of Peter Mombaerts has started its work in 2007. Since 2013, the institute hosts a new department "Theoretical Biophysics", directed by Gerhard Hummer focusing on development and implementation of broad range of computational and theoretical methods to bridge fundamental physics, chemistry and biology of molecular systems.

Since April 2003, the institute's four departments are housed in the same building, resulting in improved scientific interaction between the research groups. Scientific links to fellow researchers at Frankfurt University have been strengthened further as the institute is now situated next to the University's biology, chemistry and physics laboratories.

Together with the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main the institute runs the International Max Planck Research School (IMPReS) on the Structure and Function of Biological Membranes, a graduate program offering a Ph.D.

Medical physics

Medical physics (also called biomedical physics, medical biophysics, applied physics in medicine, physics applications in medical science, radiological physics or hospital radio-physics) is, in general, the application of physics concepts, theories, and methods to medicine or healthcare. Medical physics departments may be found in hospitals or universities.

In the case of hospital work, the term medical physicist is the title of a specific healthcare profession, usually working within a hospital. Medical physicists are often found in the following healthcare specialties: diagnostic and interventional radiology (also known as medical imaging), nuclear medicine, radiation protection and radiation oncology.

University departments are of two types. The first type are mainly concerned with preparing students for a career as a hospital medical physicist and research focuses on improving the practice of the profession. A second type (increasingly called 'biomedical physics') has a much wider scope and may include research in any applications of physics to medicine from the study of biomolecular structure to microscopy and nanomedicine. For example, physicist Richard Feynman theorized about the future of nanomedicine. He wrote about the idea of a medical use for biological machines (see nanobiotechnology). Feynman and Albert Hibbs suggested that certain repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it would be possible to (as Feynman put it) "swallow the doctor". The idea was discussed in Feynman's 1959 essay There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.

Molecular biophysics

Molecular biophysics is a rapidly evolving interdisciplinary area of research that combines concepts in physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and biology. It seeks to understand biomolecular systems and explain biological function in terms of molecular structure, structural organization, and dynamic behaviour at various levels of complexity (from single molecules to supramolecular structures, viruses and small living systems). This discipline covers topics such as the measurement of molecular forces, molecular associations, allosteric interactions, Brownian motion, and cable theory. Additional areas of study can be found on Outline of Biophysics. The technical challenges of molecular biophysics are formidable, and the discipline has required development of specialized equipment and procedures capable of imaging and manipulating minute living structures, as well as novel experimental approaches.

In order to be classified as molecular biophysics, the subject studied needs to relate to biophysics and use mathematics at an engineering level, not only to explain the phenomenon, but also to predict future outcomes.

Molecular motor

Molecular motors are biological molecular machines that are the essential agents of movement in living organisms. In general terms, a motor is a device that consumes energy in one form and converts it into motion or mechanical work; for example, many protein-based molecular motors harness the chemical free energy released by the hydrolysis of ATP in order to perform mechanical work. In terms of energetic efficiency, this type of motor can be superior to currently available man-made motors. One important difference between molecular motors and macroscopic motors is that molecular motors operate in the thermal bath, an environment in which the fluctuations due to thermal noise are significant.


Neurophysics (or neurobiophysics) is the branch of biophysics dealing with the development and use of physical techniques to gain information about the nervous system on a molecular level.The term is a portmanteau of neuron and physics, to represent an interdisciplinary science which applies the approaches and methods of experimental biophysics to study the nervous system.

Examples of techniques developed and used in neurophysics are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), patch clamp, tomography, and two-photon excitation microscopy.

Outline of biophysics

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to biophysics:

Biophysics – interdisciplinary science that uses the methods of physics to study biological systems.

Proceedings of the USSR Academy of Sciences

The Proceedings of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Russian: Доклады Академии Наук СССР, Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR (DAN SSSR), French: Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences de l'URSS) was a Soviet journal that was dedicated to publishing original, academic research papers in physics, mathematics, chemistry, geology, and biology. It was first published in 1933 and ended in 1992 with volume 322, issue 3.

Today, it is continued by Doklady Akademii Nauk (Russian: Доклады Академии Наук), which began publication in 1992. The journal is also known as the Proceedings of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).

Doklady has had a complicated publication and translation history. A number of translation journals exist which publish selected articles from the original by subject section; these are listed below.

Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics

The Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics (the Randall) is a research institute of King's College London located in London United Kingdom. It is a centre for study in allergy and asthma; muscle signalling and development; structural biology; muscle biophysics; cell motility and cytoskeleton, and cell imaging.

The Randall continues the tradition of Biophysics at King’s established by Sir John Randall, which produced the studies of the structure of DNA by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. Much of this early work was supported by the Medical Research Council, who still provide the majority of research funding.

The Biophysics Unit expanded and in the 1960s moved to the site in Drury Lane that later became known as the Randall Institute, incorporating at various stages the King’s Biophysics Department, MRC Cell Biophysics Unit, and MRC Muscle and Motility Unit. After King's merged with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ Medical Schools in 1998, the Randall Institute research groups moved to new labs on the Guy’s Campus at London Bridge, which became the present Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics.

Science Citation Index

The Science Citation Index (SCI) is a citation index originally produced by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and created by Eugene Garfield. It was officially launched in 1964. It is now owned by Clarivate Analytics (previously the Intellectual Property and Science business of Thomson Reuters). The larger version (Science Citation Index Expanded) covers more than 8,500 notable and significant journals, across 150 disciplines, from 1900 to the present. These are alternatively described as the world's leading journals of science and technology, because of a rigorous selection process.The index is made available online through different platforms, such as the Web of Science and SciSearch. (There are also CD and printed editions, covering a smaller number of journals). This database allows a researcher to identify which later articles have cited any particular earlier article, or have cited the articles of any particular author, or have been cited most frequently. Thomson Reuters also markets several subsets of this database, termed "Specialty Citation Indexes", such as the Neuroscience Citation Index and the Chemistry Citation Index.

Structural biology

Structural biology is a branch of molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics concerned with the molecular structure of biological macromolecules (especially proteins, made up of amino acids, and RNA or DNA, made up of nucleotides), how they acquire the structures they have, and how alterations in their structures affect their function. This subject is of great interest to biologists because macromolecules carry out most of the functions of cells, and it is only by coiling into specific three-dimensional shapes that they are able to perform these functions. This architecture, the "tertiary structure" of molecules, depends in a complicated way on each molecule's basic composition, or "primary structure."

Biomolecules are too small to see in detail even with the most advanced light microscopes. The methods that structural biologists use to determine their structures generally involve measurements on vast numbers of identical molecules at the same time. These methods include:

Mass spectrometry

Macromolecular crystallography


Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of proteins (NMR)

Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR)

Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM)

Multiangle light scattering

Small angle scattering

Ultrafast laser spectroscopy

Dual-polarization interferometry and circular dichroismMost often researchers use them to study the "native states" of macromolecules. But variations on these methods are also used to watch nascent or denatured molecules assume or reassume their native states. See protein folding.

A third approach that structural biologists take to understanding structure is bioinformatics to look for patterns among the diverse sequences that give rise to particular shapes. Researchers often can deduce aspects of the structure of integral membrane proteins based on the membrane topology predicted by hydrophobicity analysis. See protein structure prediction.

In the past few years it has become possible for highly accurate physical molecular models to complement the in silico study of biological structures. Examples of these models can be found in the Protein Data Bank.

Thomas A. Steitz

Thomas Arthur Steitz (August 23, 1940 – October 9, 2018) was an American biochemist, a Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, best known for his pioneering work on the ribosome.

Steitz was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Ada Yonath "for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome". Steitz also won the Gairdner International Award in 2007 "for his studies on the structure and function of the ribosome which showed that the peptidyl transferase was an RNA catalyzed reaction, and for revealing the mechanism of inhibition of this function by antibiotics".

University of Madras

University of Madras is a public state university in Chennai (formerly Madras), Tamil Nadu, India. Established in 1857, it is one of the oldest universities in India. The university was incorporated by an act of the Legislative Council of India.It is a collegiate research university and has six campuses in the city viz., Chepauk, Marina, Guindy, Taramani, Maduravoyal and Chetpet. At present, there are 233 plus courses offered under 87 academic departments grouped under 19 schools, covering diverse areas such as sciences, social sciences, humanities, management and medicine along with 109 affiliated colleges and 52 approved research institutions. It is one of the top Universities in India that provide distance education in various disciplines.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council has conferred 'five star' accreditation to the university and it has been given the status of 'University with Potential for Excellence' by the University Grants Commission.University of Madras is the alma mater of two Indian Physics Nobel Laureates, CV Raman and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, five Presidents of India, including A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and several notable mathematicians including Srinivasa Ramanujan.

See also
Branches of life science and biology

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