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Unit information: Biophysics 321 in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Biophysics 321
Unit code PHYS31211
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Seddon
Open unit status Not open

First and second year core and classical physics units.



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


The role of Physics in the study of fundamental biological problems has a long and rich history; from the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA to cutting-edge diffraction-breaking microscopy techniques, the questions asked in the life sciences often find their answers in Physics. This unit will address the links between these disciplines and provide students with knowledge of biological concepts; how these concepts can be addressed using a Physics-based approach and exposure to a wide range of techniques commonly applied to the study of biological molecules, cells and organisms. The aims of the course are: to introduce students to the subject of biophysics; to introduce the study of biological systems from a physics perspective; to expose students to a range of techniques with a physics basis that can be used in the study of biological structures, systems and processes.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit students will:

  • have a basic understanding of cell and molecular biology and how this can be related to concepts previously met in Physics
  • be aware of the energy requirements and thermodynamics of biological systems; be aware of rates of reactions in biology and describe the kinetics of biological systems
  • be aware of the forces and mechanical properties inherent in biological systems and how these inform biological function
  • be aware of a range of techniques commonly applied in experimental biophysics, which have a basis in Physics and how they are used for understanding biological structure and function. These may include examples from Xray crystallography and scattering, and neutron scattering; fluorescence techniques; microscopy; scanning probe microscopy techniques; optical tweezers
  • be able to describe the theory and application of at least two biophysical techniques in detail and show how they can be applied to solving a biological problem
  • be able to synthesise this knowledge to produce a review article which draws together knowledge of a protein, its role within the cell, the relationship between its structure and function and a technique (or techniques) used to study it.

Teaching details

Lectures, problems classes

Assessment Details

Formative Assessment

Problems classes

Summative Assessment

1,000 word essay (30%) – the essay will test the student’s understanding of the application of one physics based technique to the recent understanding of the structure and function of a biological molecule, such as a protein. It will also test the ability of the student to engage with the current literature and write a structured essay.

2 hour exam (70%) – the exam will consist of short answer questions which will test the student’s understanding of the material presented in the lecture course. These will include having to describe concepts and perform calculations.

Reading and References

Modern Biophysical Chemistry, PJ Walla Biophysics, R Glaser Intermolecular and Surface Forces, J Israelachvilli