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Biophysics (also biological physics or biophysical chemistry) is an interdisciplinary science that employs and develops theories and methods of the physical sciences for the investigation of biological systems . Studies included under the branches of biophysics span all levels of biological organization, from the molecular scale to whole organisms and ecosystems. Biophysical research shares significant overlap with biochemistry, nanotechnology, bioengineering, agrophysics and systems biology.

Molecular biophysics typically addresses biological questions that are similar to those in biochemistry and molecular biology, but the questions are approached quantitatively. Scientists in this field conduct research concerned with understanding the interactions between the various systems of a cell, including the interactions between DNA, RNA and protein biosynthesis, as well as how these interactions are regulated. A great variety of techniques are used to answer these questions.

Fluorescent imaging techniques, as well as electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) are often used to visualize structures of biological significance. Conformational change in structure can be measured using techniques such as dual polarisation interferometry and circular dichroism. Direct manipulation of molecules using optical tweezers or AFM can also be used to monitor biological events where forces and distances are at the nanoscale. Molecular biophysicists often consider complex biological events as systems of interacting units which can be understood through statistical mechanics, thermodynamics and chemical kinetics. By drawing knowledge and experimental techniques from a wide variety of disciplines, biophysicists are often able to directly observe, model or even manipulate the structures and interactions of individual molecules or complexes of molecules.

In addition to traditional (i.e. molecular and cellular) biophysical topics like structural biology or enzyme kinetics, modern biophysics encompasses an extraordinarily broad range of research. It is becoming increasingly common for biophysicists to apply the models and experimental techniques derived from physics, as well as mathematics and statistics, to larger systems such as tissues, organs, populations and ecosystems.

Focus as a subfield

Biophysics often does not have university-level departments of its own, but has presence as groups across departments within the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, medicine, pharmacology, physiology, physics, and neuroscience. What follows is a list of examples of how each department applies its efforts toward the study of biophysics. This list is hardly all inclusive. Nor does each subject of study belong exclusively to any particular department. Each academic institution makes its own rules and there is much overlap between departments.

Many biophysical techniques are unique to this field. Research efforts in biophysics are often initiated by scientists who were traditional physicists, chemists, and biologists by training.

Topics in biophysics and related fields

Molecular biophysics Cellular biophysics Techniques used in biophysics Other


Famous biophysicists



Other notable biophysicists



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Notes

References

  • PMID 4389425
  • Volkenshtein M.V., Dogonadze R.R., Madumarov A.K., Urushadze Z.D. and Kharkats Yu.I. Theory of Enzyme Catalysis.- Molekuliarnaya Biologia (Moscow), 6, 1972, pp. 431-439 (In Russian, English summary)


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