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How to prepare for grad school in biophysics

  1. Jul 8, 2010 #1
    My situation:

    I was originally an Economics major, math minor. However, I have lost interest in econ and have become very interested in physics and math. I begin my senior year of undergrad this fall, however I am staying in school longer and beginning the physics curriculum as well this fall. Additionally, since I can only get through the physics program so fast, I am filling in the gaps with more math classes. So in all, I will receive 3 degrees when I finish: economics, math, and physics(honors with a thesis).

    Now, I attend Louisiana State University (LSU) and the physics curriculum requires 2 introductory biology courses and 2 introductory chemistry courses. Although i am not sure what direction in physics I want to go, if I did want to study biophysics in grad school must I take more biol/chem classes at the undergraduate level, or could I study advanced topics on my own? Or during the first year of grad school? By the way, there is no Biophysics program at LSU.

    If I went in the direction of biophysics in graduate school I think i would want to study the physics behind the workings of the brain. Im not even really sure what I mean by that but basically I would want to study the brain at the quantum level.

    Let me be clear though, I will not get a degree in chemistry or biology instead, I want the physics degree.

    If anyone could supply any information/suggestions I would be very grateful.
    If you would like me to clarify anything I have said or asked id be happy to do so.
    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 8, 2010 #2


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    Well, the quantum level is a little too reduced for productive studies of the brain currently.

    Biophysics, however is at the center of it. Some call wha you're referring to neurophysics.

    Google "biological neuron models" and see the wiki for physics based models of neurons.

    Nonlinear dynamics and coupled network systems are something to look into.

    The subject it sounds like you're interested in is called "theoretical neuroscience"
  4. Jul 9, 2010 #3
    This type of work doesn't exist just now. I graduated as an astro-physicist with no biology background (none - never completed any biology bar the first year of high school) and I work in computational neuroscience. There is actually a surprising amount of room for physicists in the life sciences - biologists have plenty of ideas of things they want to look at but generally aren't so good at things like statistics, modelling and processing of data. These are the types of things I do, mostly with studies on the brain. It means that whilst I don't really need to understand the biology - I essentially get data sets and report to biologists to let them know what seems to be happening in a particular situation and we work together to deduce whether or not the experiments have deduced anything biologically significant.

    I should note I am from the UK. But my path was astro-physics followed immediately by a PhD in computational neuroscience. During the PhD I spent the first couple of months taking biology classes, though most of it has been largely irrelevant. If you want to work in computational biology as a physicist, things like PPI (protein-protein interaction) and mapping cellular processes/movement are quite good to get into.
  5. Jul 9, 2010 #4
    Thanks a lot for the info from both of you. Very helpful. I figured that studying the brain at the quantum level is not taking place at the moment due to, among other things, the fact that researchers are only scratching the surface in neuroscience. However, I am also only 21, so there will be 50+ years of advancements in the field during my lifetime (hopefully).

    The areas of study mentioned by Pythagorean are very appealing to me. Since I have many math courses left to take I'd love any suggestions for math courses that would complement neurophysics/theoretical neuroscience.
    I plan to take:
    Advanced calc. II&III
    Complex Variables
    Numerical analysis I&II
    Finite dimensional vector spaces
    and a few others, any key subject I'm leaving out? Oh, and I have already taken optimization theory, probability and advanced calc I.

    There are also a few biology classes I may be able to fit in, such as 'Biological Modeling and Data Analysis.'

    Thanks again!
  6. Jul 9, 2010 #5


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    theoretical neuroscience is a diverse field. If you're coming at it from the physics angle (which I did, I got my Bachelor's in physics and am designing an interdisciplinary MS in theoretical neuroscience through three departments: electrical engineering, physics, and biology/chemistry department. I don't study chemistry in depth (I took a year of chemistry, but don't ever use it in my research yet).

    Good math course selection, complex variables and calculus will be helpful. You should also do differential equations (the biological neuron models I mentioned, such as the Hodgkin-Huxley model are differential equations) and nonlinear dynamics. Numerical analysis is good.

    I'm going to take discrete math and graph theory, because I'm interested in networks of neurons; not the simplified artificial neural networks, but networks made of the nonlinear models I keep referring too. I'm also taking some electrical engineering communications classes for the information processing aspects.

    I'm personally not a strong proponent of using quantum in the brain. It's an alluring idea, but it doesn't have much evidence for it. Obviously, our brain is made up of quantum particles, but this doesn't mean that the dynamics at the quantum level are necessary to explain the interesting aspects of the brain. Additionally, we can't even model a basketball with quantum mechanics.
  7. Jul 9, 2010 #6
    Point taken. This was an initial thought i had myself. All the action is occurring a few levels above the quantum.

    Hopefully, as im sure it will, my interests will solidify a little more as I progress through the physics curriculum. I really just needed to know now to what extent i need to study biology/chemistry in order to have a shot at a biophysics graduate program if I so choose. I have a much clearer idea now. Thanks again for the insight. Btw, what your studying sounds great, enjoy!
  8. Jul 15, 2010 #7
    I was wondering if anyone can give me a tip for doing it the other way. I'm a neuroscience major (MSc.) interested in applying to a biophysics PhD program. I also really want to try to incorporate some biophysics into my MSc. thesis which will likely include fMRI analysis, so if you could recommend any books that would be great.

    Thanks a lot!
  9. Jul 16, 2010 #8


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    traditional MRI is based on the zeeman effect, which is a quantum effect. Not sure how in depth you want to go, but it wouldn't hurt to take a QM class, and then study the zeeman effect in depth.
  10. Jul 16, 2010 #9


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    Hrm, you probably meant just to analyze the results, not so much the mechanics behind the technology.
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