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Physics and Neuroscience degree?

  1. Jan 19, 2016 #1
    I am currently in grade 12. I really like neuroscience and physics (more towards physics) and would like to pursue them in university. Would it be a good idea to do a physics and neuroscience double major or something? I'm thinking of really trying to combine the two, so that I do physics research that can have applications in neuroscience. Is that possible?
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  3. Jan 19, 2016 #2


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    I've got a neurologist who's a "whiz" at physics, so I'd say, "Yes."
  4. Jan 20, 2016 #3
    Most definitely. The application of physics to the life sciences and neuroscience in particular is extremely challenging. New math technique are being sought to model and understand these systems. As an undergrad your should start by making sure you have a complete course of classical physics with courses relevant to the area of neuroscience you are particularly interested that could include courses in biophysics, chemistry, molecular biology and of course neurobiolgy. So selection of a university with the necessary resources in this area will be important. Good Luck.
  5. Jan 20, 2016 #4
    I don't know off the top of my head where physics gets used in neuroscience, but if you like physics and you like neuroscience then sure, why not?
  6. Jan 20, 2016 #5
  7. Jan 21, 2016 #6
    Thank you for your informative response. Would you be able to expand on what you said above a little bit? I would really appreciate that!
  8. Jan 22, 2016 #7
    A physics/neuroscience major or a physics major with a neuroscience minor is definitely possible; friends of mine have done undergrad majors in biophysics too, which combines relevant physics courses with courses in biology and organic chemistry. Professors at my alma matter looked mostly at protein folding and ocular phenomena, but there's research into brain imaging and such else where. Best to look around at programs like I mentioned above, good luck.
  9. Jan 23, 2016 #8
    I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner but I'm in the midst of a significant snow storm. I am not that knowledgeable in biophysics but have a passing interest in the application of physics to the life sciences. I will say a few things though but I hope not too much so as to expose my ignorance. In the article that I cited in a previous post in this thread the authors make a specific point of who they think can contribute to the understanding of life and its processes. They believe that what is needed are those who can delineate new problems (reformulate current problems) associated with life processes not necessarily those who will solve current problems. So they are looking for fresh views and insights. I think that what they are looking for is a bottom up approach as opposed to a top down approach.

    This idea of applying physics to the solution of biological problems is not new in fact Dirac proposed in in 1931 and Schrodinger in 1944. This was before the discovery of DNA and for Dirac before the science of molecular biology. Schrodinger introduced the term negentropy in 1944 which is the entropy removed by cells to maintain their order. As you might know entropy , a measure of disorder, never decreases in any isolated system. A function of a cell is to prevent entropy from increasing. Of course increasing entropy in a cell leads to death and decay.

    It is my belief that the best contributions to a subject of one versed in another discipline who might have new tools to bare on the subject must be versed in that subject and not depend on others in that subject for guidance for you may inadvertently take their biases too.

    The life process is a very complex biochemical process involving the action of many different substances acting like little machines focused on the sustaining of that process we call life. In physics typically we deal with equilibrium situations but in a living system we have a system that is basically not in equilibrium. Thus physics must further develop new approaches to this situation. Following a basic physics strategy it is desirable to reduce the complexity to a few fundamental properties whose relationship can be delineated.

    One of the things that is necessary to study any phenomenon is to quantify some characteristic of a system. An molecular biology has been doing this for some time. With the increasing amount of data regarding these processes physics has a great opportunity to unfold these complexities for the understanding of the various aspect of life. An as is common in physics to develop model which mathematics may be applied to help in this understanding. Such models of course should be predictive. These models may use continuum, fluid, statistical, quantum mechanics and thermodynamic. There is a similarity to Condensed Matter Physics (Solid State Physics) in that you try to explain a macroscopic property of bulk matter in terms of simple interacting entities. Although the biological equivalent is orders of magnitude more complex.

    Although I have emphasized a need for theoretical analysis of biological data It doesn't mean that new physical technique might not need to be developed to acquire more and different types of data.

    I recall as a graduate student in a rather typical physics department that interdisciplinary efforts were not common and even a rather elitist attitude existed regarding what constituted physics. You weren't doing physics if you didn't study fundamental interactions. I believe that that has changed but still underlines the fact that in choosing a university one should look for schools with interdepartmental programs one in which both the physics department does active research cooperatively with life science departments.

    You must decide of course whether you want to be a physicist doing biology or a biologist doing physics each will have its own emphasis and define the approach to various problems i.e. bottom up; with a few fundamental principles usually expressed mathematically, simple models, recognizing physical constraints, vs top down; recognizing structure/function relationships but constrained to think in the arena of existing systems which may limit their approach.

    Below is an example of a neuroscience program. at University of Pennsylvania's


    Another website that might be of value for you at this stage of your education is


    Don't be put off by the title It provides a lot of information on the nervous system.

    And of course perform commendably in your physics and math courses.

    Finally a bit of levity of a biologist's idea of a physicist beginning to solve a biological problem

    Assume a spherical cow........
  10. Jan 26, 2016 #9
    Wow thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate the time you put into helping me!
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