Biophysics? Computational Neuroscience? M-Theory?

  • #1
Ok heres the scoop. I'm fresh out of high school and starting my first year at college. Before I get too deep into one particular area and get stuck I was hoping I could get some help here and some useful advice from you guys. Bottomline: I love math and I love physics and as of right now I am scheduled to dual major in said topics. The problem is I don't want to make myself completely unmarketable and unable to research things I love. Although ideally I would go straight to grad school after my Bs and work on string theory I doubt I will actually be able to do this, especially due to the high competition when in the end I satisfy my curiosity by self studying. If I were to see myself in another career it would certaintly be something like utilizing concepts of physics and mathematical modeling to studying the brain. How would I begin working on something like this. Would that fall under a Biology/Physics double major or a Psychology/Physics major?

Answers and Replies

  • #2
It goes without saying that you'll need to take a physics major and loads of applied math.

I think your attitude to string theory is realistic. Take as much math as you can and see how it goes. It is very unlikely that you will be able to pursue string theory by self-studying just because the field requires developing a substantial background in math and physics that typically requires training past a bachelor's degree.

As for the biology/psychology elements of your interests, I would be less inclined to pursue a major in the subjects: it's probably best to identify a few courses that seem really interesting/relevant/well taught and take those. Some bio/psych coursework will provide a broader perspective and it will help you to know a little more generally "what is out there".

However, it would be even better to try to find summer research positions in your areas of interest - a physics position studying brain function. I think you will find that a lot of the bio-psych knowledge and biology lab skills are things that you can learn "on the job". It is much more valuable to have exposure to physics and training in mathematics and computer programming.

The great news is that you have four (or more!) years to figure out how you want to specialise! I have a friend who did a six year undergrad in honours biophysics with minors in philosophy and chinese. So be generous with yourself.
  • #3
Thanks for the advice! :biggrin: I know that the math and physics required for String theory is too in depth for self study I just meant that I may be able to have the best of both worlds by taking biophysics and learning about the brain and physics, and on my own keeping up with research in the area of string theory just out of interest. The reason I asked though despite having a whole 4 yrs ahead of me is because I want to know if I decide to do biophysics I want to know early enough that I can assimilate that into my courseload without having to take more than a year or so extra. From what you're saying it seems that biophysics is the career path I would want to choose if I want to eventually work in computational neuroscience... am I correct? Also what combination of majors would work for somebody wanting to pursue this field. I know of people who majored in fields such as EE, physics, math, computer science, and biology. I'm thinking of either majoring in physics/bio or math/bio or possibly staying as physics and math.
  • #4
Does your school have a cognitive science major? That might be worth checking out too.
  • #5
unfortunately no that a problem? I thought you had to do undergrad as a biology major then take courses on the specific body parts more indepth as a graduate. The reason I chose the school I did was because it was relatively small yet had a great physics and math department and I know a few of the professors personally.
  • #6
Yea thats what I was thinking about String theory. I mean my intrest in ST got me interested in physics but I want to do something that I can be sure I will be able to sustain interest in which gives me a chance to do theoretical as well as experimental work that not as many people are working on. I'd love to work on a study of the constructs of consciousness that would be amazing. :)

Well I was about to post a link to the Biology Department so I'll do both at once. :biggrin: [Broken]
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  • #7
Computer science? actually that wasn't particularly interesting to me. However from what I have read math and physics are involved in the theoretical models of the brain.
  • #8
Yeah I was thinking that due to the brain essentially being a very complicated computer (atleast on a certain level) computer sci would help but I wouldn't take that as a major (unless it was absolutely needed).

Thanks for the help... btw would you happen to be in this field yourself?
  • #9
That's cool.

So I should focus on biology math and physics as my major subjects?
  • #10
really? I thought that would def be needed. So should I minor in bio tho? Or just self-study books on neuroscience and anatomy?
  • #11
it really depends on what part of computational neuroscience you want to study. There are several fields underlying said topic

- physical/chemical basis behind neuronal firing and neuron/cell structure
- electrochemical signal behind the firing ignoring the actual atomic/molecular structure
- artificial method of using neural networks (ANNs) as oppose to BNNs(biological) to study low level brain function
- the above for high level brain function.

[0] if its the latter two then there is no need for physics though some concepts come from physics like stats mech or energy minimization. IT helps to have a physics bkgd but if you want the flexibility then upto classical mechanics or thermodynamics should do.

[1] if you are thinking about brain function you don't really need a biology course...the psychology dept should already offer a neuroscience course(2nd or 3rd yr)...though it helps if you understand about cell functions(first year bio) but you don't need it.

[2] a biophysics course (2-4th yr) will help if you want the first two.

from the actual computational and mathematical perspective ther is alot of foundational knowledge you would need I would look to major in compsci/math/psych with a minor in physics (which is what i did wiht astro).

[5] Given that modern day simulations require HPC-high performance computing/parallel should look into this area in your 4th year.

[6] oh and i hate to say it but stats...
ALL &ALLThings oyu would need to take(make sure you look at the curriculum)

[01] some AI course that focuses on Ai rather than scripting or parsing or 1950s AI (topics like neural networks, reinforcement learning, flocking, A*,genetic algos).

[02] a datastructures course is a must (why spend the time learning it on your own).

[03a] graphics/rendering course might help in giving you a test bed either on a gameboard or a virtual world
[03b] robotics is another testbed you can use

[04] linux(you could probably learn this on your own but i've failed to find good quick references)

[05] HPC/Parallel if offered.

[06] simulations course

[01] mathematical bio, ODEs, PDEs, and if your school offers it spiking neurons

[02] the prereqs to the above: all the calculus,linalg etc.

[03] numerical methods as always.

[04] sigh....stats(not those wimpy ones but like a mathematical statistics)
markov chains/stochastics etc.

[05] graph theory/combinatorics may help in understanding the large structures

[06] and if you can't take ODE/PDE/mathbio than a course called mathematical modelling is usually good to take.
[01] really depends on what brain function you want to focus on
but most universities will offer a 2nd year neurosci course.
[02] child development i think is interesting...
[03] cognitive science

[01] first year bio...should suffice unless you truly want to go into cell growth
then a cell bio will help

[01] thermo
[02] E&M
[03] classical mechanics(just cuz its probably one of the most analytical courses you'll take and it'll help you along way in both math/phys)
[04] lastly if your school offers it biophysics from a physicist perspective.

but for the next year focus on becoming a efficient coder and a great mathematician. The rest will fall into place when you go to grad school just keep inmind the science areas you want ot go towards.
I did it the other way..and i've been a lackadaisical coder ever since which i regret so i'm talking from experience.
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  • #12
Wow thanks for all that in depth info I'm going to have to look more into what my school has to offer in regards to those classes. As for the physics side I want to get more in depth than you are suggesting. I plan to take QM I and II as well as E&M I and II. The types of things I'm interested in neuroscience are the theoretical research going on into consciousness and how the sum of the parts (Firing of neurons and seemingly random electric data) adds to be a greater whole.
  • #13
i took QM I and II found it useless =]...but that depends on the field of physics you interested in(astrophysics was mine though i wish there was more coding involved...)

for Consciousness: if your looking at sum of the parts then well your best bet would be to forget physics entirely =] j/k but i'd take a extra year of undergrad just to take psych courses: neurosci and vision/audition/language/memory/childdev which are your standard psych coures for everything in psych...and well stats but psych stats LOL.
  • #14
I second neurocomp's suggestions....

I think you might be interested in this professor's research: [Broken]
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  • #15
The issue of studying biophysics is: At what scale do I want to look at this process? If you are thinking protien/molecule or electron transport level: quantum physics, physical chemistry, classical mechanics (to pick up a large amount of math practice), E&M, computational physics/chemistry, stat mechanics, and maybe some biochem courses along with a heavy dose of math would be great.

If you are thinking more along the lines of cellular behavor: E&M, Continuum Mechanics, a heavy dose of stats, some physical chemistry (less), Classical Mechanics, and loads of computational methods.

Macroscale (Biomechanics-if your interested in robotics this is fun stuff): Classical Mechanics, Anatomy, cell bio, E&M (less needed), Optics, Traditional bio, Gen-Chem (maybe bio and O-chem, also), Stats and numerical methods.

Ecological/Enviromental: Stat. Mechanics, graph theory, heavy stats, tradtional ecology/enviromental, a dynamics class (non-linear equations), earth sciences courses, atmospheric physics/chemistry.

example- membrane biophysics and protien biophysics are my interests so my class work follows something like this (note: I opted out of calculus, since I already had a strong understanding, and as a result I must take a large number of upper divison math my math doesn't corelate to the standard)
Freshmen:Gen. Physics (I-III), Gen. Chem(I-III), Diff. Eq.

Sophmore:Classical Mechanics (I-II), Comp. Physics, Diff. Geometry, Tensor Anaylsis, Advanced Calc/Intro Real I-II Anaylsis, and Modern Physics

Junior: P. Chem, Quantum Physics, Group theory, Linear Algebra, Comp. Chemistry, Electron Microsope Lab, O-Chem (maybe...if I can fit it in), Stat/Thermo physics, Experimental Physics (Nuclear and "Modern" Physics experiments)

Senior: E&M (I-II), Current Electricity/Circuit theory, Optics, Biophysics (if they offer it again), Physics Seminar, Complex anaylsis, Waves, Cell bio (maybe...arrangements must me made), and Fluid Mechanics (unfortunantly through the engineering school...the math department might offer a class on elasticisty, in which case I will take it instead).

This is excluding my required coursework to graduate humanties courses are intersperced in here as well as a senior level thesis in physics.

But that is the general gist of my biophysics undergraduate.
  • #17
Thanks ^_^physicist , that is an extremley detailed answer .

I'm going to continue with my main math and physics classes next year and then after that gauge what path I want to take.

Next year i'm taking Calc III, Linear Algebra, Physics II, Modern Physics (Optics, Waves, Relativity), Abstract Algebra I, and possibly Intro To Real Analysis.

So as you can see I'm still at a kind of elementary level so it's going to be hard to decide what I wanna do until I at least have those classes. After the two pure math classes and the modern physics class I think I will be able to gauge my interest as far as whether I perfer pure math over modern physics or vice versa. One thing I know for sure is that I hate experimental physics unless it has to do with Biology or Chemistry in some way(which I know is weird especially since I don't like biology or chemistry otherwise).
  • #18
Hey hiii
This is Sahil here..I have done Btech Computer science.Nad now working into IT from last 3 years..but i had always interest in science specially physics..i want to work on Computational Neuroscience..i am just a beginner in this field..i have interest in accessing computational,analytical power of brain and understanding memory and working on brain mapping ..please guide me how to start m thinking of doing MS(Research ) Computer science specialized in this field..Please help me in starting the things...

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