What is Biophysics?

A woman lying in a medical device, with legs elevated by red pads. Her waist is exposed, awaiting radiation therapy treatment.
NUERNBERG, GERMANY - DECEMBER 10: Radiotherapy on December 10, 2012 in Nuernberg, Germany. Isa Foltin/Getty Images

Biophysics is the application of physics to biological systems. This interdisciplinary field is quickly growing in the modern scientific community, searching for ways that the laws of physics can be applied to living systems at all levels, from individual cells and microbes to animals, plants, and even entire ecosystems.

Major Innovations:

One of the first major findings in biophysics was the discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953.

James D. Watson (geneticist & zoologist), Francis Crick (physicist, molecular biologist, and neuroscientist), & Maurice Wilkins (physicist) were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine for the discovery. Rosalind Franklin (physical chemist & crystallographer) was also instrumental in this discovery, but she was not cited by the Nobel Prize.

Medical applications of physics have also been a major success story, from imaging with x-rays and more recent applications like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to radiation treatments.  

Biophysics & Consciousness:

Francis Crick has devoted over 20 years to the question of how the brain forms consciousness. Roger Penrose, another physicist, has applied the concepts of quantum physics to state his belief that consciousness is a manifestation of quantum phenomona, refuting beliefs that the brain can be simulated in complex computer systems.

Penrose and others have tried to show how this quantum consciousness could manifest, but there is currently no proof for the hypothesis.

Preparing for a Career in Biophysics:

More and more colleges are offering degree programs in biophysics, although many people doing work in the field have different degrees.

Studying physics and biology disciplines obviously are most applicable, although in-depth knowledge of chemistry and mathematics helps. Medical physics, biochemistry, mathematical physics, molecular physics, chemical physics, and similar fields are all fields to consider in pursuing a biophysics career.