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Physics BIO

  1. Aug 18, 2008 #1
    HI...all of you...

    I want to know what kind of field is biophysics....i mean, what's there in it???

    also, i am an undergraduate physics student...so do i have any career, or scope, in the field??and of what sort...and is it okay for me leave mainstream physics and enter the field?

    (by mainstream i only meant that i don't have any biophysics course in my undergraduate course curriculum...)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2008 #2


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    Our curriculum has two undergrad biophysics courses, and I do believe that it is part of the mainstream. In fact, I would wager that it is a bigger field than most 'normal' physics fields (if only because the word bio tends to attract grant money).

    But I don't know much about it, so I won't comment as to what it's really about.
  4. Aug 18, 2008 #3


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    I'm in a graduate biophysics program and biophysics is a very, very broad field that different people will define differently. In general, there are two broad (non exclusive) definitions of biophysics:

    1) Using and developing tools from physics to study biological systems. Things in this category include medical imaging, structural biology, and single molecule biophysics.

    2) Approaching problems in biology in a quantitative, theoretical manner. Fields under this category include systems biology, bioinformatics, and computational neurobiology.

    Biophysics can span very different scales. Some people study biomechanics and look at the motions of organisms. Some people study the mechanics of cells and tissues. Some people build complicated microscopes and other instruments to examine nanometer and smaller features of cells and biological molecules. Biophysics can also vary in the amount of biology involved. Some people do computational work and never set foot into a wet lab. Others are in wet lab all the time and could easily be mistaken for cell biologists or biochemists.

    People in my biophysics program are mainly physics majors with varying degrees of knowledge of biology (some come in with no knowledge of biology, and some are physics/biology double majors). Biophysics programs also have significant numbers of chemists (mostly physical chemists and biochemists), engineers, and biologists (usually with some training in a quantitative field such as physics, chemistry, math or engineering). I personally majored in biochemistry, minored in math, and took many physical chemistry courses. My roommate (also a biophysics grad student) majored in physics and had almost no knowledge of biology (just a few introductory courses) prior to starting grad school.

    Biology is becoming an increasingly interdisciplinary field. While there is still a need for people with traditional biology training to become experts in particular biological systems, people coming to biology from other fields with new tools and approaches are revolutionizing biology. For example, x-ray crystallographic of proteins, high-throughput DNA sequencing, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging are a few of the technologies that have really helped to expand the questions that biologists can ask and answer.

    Biophysics is certainly a rich field for physicists interested in studying biological systems, but it is not for everyone. Biological systems are enormously complex and messy, so they often lack the simplicity and elegance of systems studied by most physicists. It is very, very difficult to conclusively prove anything in biology. Furthermore, whereas physicists are used to being able to do some math to figure out how a system will behave, you would have to rely mostly on experimentation in biology (and experiments will often give confusing often contradictory results because, in many cases, your experiments will literally have a mind of their own). That said, biophysicists hope to advance our understanding of biology to where we can have good, quantitative models of biological systems. We now have great tools to study biological systems quantitatively, but biology sorely need more physicists with the training to know what to do with this quantitative data.
  5. Aug 19, 2008 #4
    thanks...that was quite useful!!!

    please tell me what a physicist can offer in the field of genetics? and does he need to have some background in biology for the purpose?

    as a physics student, i am interested in physics...also like some disciplines of biology,(though i don't have much of a background...)

    would it be worthwhile for me to enter this field...??
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2008
  6. Aug 19, 2008 #5
    One area in genetics where a background in physics can come in handy is in gene expression and regulation, especially when trying to understand these processes in a quantitative manner (this is the second broad area that is described in an earlier response). See, for example, From biophysics to evolutionary genetics: statistical aspects of gene regulation.

    Also, people switch fields all of the time. They eventually acquire the background and understanding of the field with time, sometimes in a formal manner, other times in a less formal manner. I know that the biophysics program at my graduate institution made everyone take a common core of classes (biochem/molecular bio, molecular genetics, biophysics), so it helps those with a more physically-oriented background (physicists, engineers, mathematicians, chemists) become familiar with biology, and the inverse for the more biologically oriented students.
  7. Aug 19, 2008 #6


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    Of all the main fields of biology, I'd say genetics is the closest to pure biology of them all. That is not to say that there is not room for physicists to contribute as genetics is a pretty broad field. Bioinformatics and genomics fall under the category of genetics and are areas where people with strong quantitative and computational skills can make an impact. So, it really depends on what you'd like to do specifically. Although a background in biology would be nice, it is easier to pick up the biology in grad school than to learn the quantitative/computational skills at that stage.

    As for whether it is worthwhile for you to enter this field, I cannot answer this question. It is highly dependent on what you want to learn and what you want to do.
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