Biophysics – What do you study in biophysics?


By Dr Katelyn Spillane, Lecturer in Experimental Biophysics, Department of Physics

I’m Katelyn, a Lecturer in Experimental Biophysics and the programme coordinator for our new Physics with Biophysics BSc/MSci, which is the only undergraduate Biophysics course in the UK. We would be thrilled for you to be part of our inaugural Biophysics class!

In Year 1 of Physics with Biophysics you would take the normal Physics curriculum plus an Introduction to Biophysics module with me. In this module we ask the question: “How do complex biological behaviours emerge from simple chemical and physical processes inside living cells?” Each week I introduce a new physical sciences concept and then we explore its application to a biological system. For instance, using the laws of thermodynamics we explore what makes a chemical reaction spontaneous or not, and then use this physical understanding to delve into how proteins recognise their ligands, which has direct applications to drug discovery and development. Other topics include electrochemistry and signalling in neurons, chemical reaction kinetics and enzyme catalysis, and acid-base equilibria and the effect of pH on protein structure and function. But don’t worry if you haven’t taken biology or chemistry at A-level! I’ll teach you all the biology and chemistry you need to know.

In Years 2-4 you will take additional Biophysics modules, and in years 3 and 4 undertake a Biophysics project in one of our world-leading research groups! You’ll work alongside PhD students and postdoctoral researchers on a topic of your choice. Some of our recent undergraduate projects have included investigating the mechanical unfolding of individual protein molecules using single-molecule force spectroscopy, determining how mechanical forces regulate intracellular signalling in adhesion complexes using fluorescence microscopy, developing novel DNA-nanoparticle conjugates for imaging applications in biomedicine, and combining experimental and computational studies to study how membrane viscosity probes interact with lipids in the cell membrane. You’ll get plenty of support and guidance to make truly meaningful contributions to biophysics research in the department!

It is an exciting time to study biophysics. Research at the interface between physics and biology has led to breakthroughs in biomedicine and has been the basis for several Nobel Prizes in recent years, including the design and synthesis of molecular machines (2016), development of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy (2014), the discovery of the structure of G-protein-coupled receptors (2012). However, studying biophysics is beneficial even if you do not want to be a research scientist. In our programme you will acquire the skills to communicate and make connections across different disciplines and apply quantitative methods to understand a diverse range of biological problems. These transferrable skills are invaluable no matter where your future career may take you!

I do hope you choose to join us at King’s later this year!

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