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What is Biophysics?
Short answer: Application of physics methods to biological systems.
To get a better perspective, we consider a very brief history of physics.
1700-1900 Classical era
Mechanics (Newton)
Electromagnetism (Maxwell)
Thermodynamics/Statistical Mechanics
1900-1950 Quantum era
Relativity (Einstein)
Quantum Mechanics (Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Dirac)
Quantum Field Theory (Feynman, Schwinger, Tomonaga)
1950-present Modern era
Development of physics methods are complete. Their applications to
matter at all scales, however, are continuing and expanding.
Main branches of physics
Particle physics (QFT)
Nuclear physics (QM)
Atomic and molecular physics, optics (QM)
Chemical physics (QM, CM, SM)
Condensed matter/solid state physics (QM, CM)
Soft matter physics/biophysics (QM, CM, SM)
Plasma physics (CM, SM)
Astrophysics (CM)
Dirac’s quote:
The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a
large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely
known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of
these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.
Impact of computers on physics
Most of physics practiced today deals with many-particle problems.
None of these developments would have been possible without the
computing power provided by digital computers.
As the physical system under study gets more complicated, one needs
more computing power to tackle it.
This is the main reason for Biophysics being the latest entry among the
current applications of physics.
Papers published on molecular biology using molec. dynamics simulations
Brief history of Biophysics
1943 Schroedinger “What is life?”
1953 Watson and Crick – Double helix structure of DNA
1) DNA -> RNA -> protein, 2) Duplication problem
1960-present – Exponential growth in protein structure determination via
X-ray and NMR methods (computers play an essential role)
2001 Craig Venter – Complete reading of human genome
Two major problems in molecular biology:
Protein folding (finding the tertiary structure given the primary seq.)
Molecular recognition and assembly
Paradigm shift in Molecular Biology
A young science is always dominated by experimental work and is
qualitative in its description rather than quantitative.
As it matures, theory/computations take a complementary role, which
eventually results in the standard scientific approach:
Exp. Data  Model/theory  Prediction  Exp. test
Thanks to increases in computing power, biomolecules can now be
described near experimental accuracy. Thus we are entering a
quantitative phase in molecular biology where physical models will play
crucial roles in further developments in biophysics.