The Biological Physics Group

Biological physics seeks to explain living systems through quantitative measurements, descriptions, and physical models. Researchers in biological physics function as generalists who confront open issues in living systems that require a synergy of skills in chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and statistics, as well as physics.

Biophysics Research

We provide exciting research opportunities in this rapidly advancing discipline. Consistent with broad yet fundamental training, we use a combination of experimental, theoretical, and computational techniques to solve a scientific problem and, when necessary, develop novel approaches. Our experimental tools include quantitative behavior, electrophysiology, functional imaging, microfluidics, molecular biology, nonlinear microscopy, and optical trapping. Our theoretical tools include nonlinear dynamics, informatics, and statistical mechanics.

Primary faculty:

Henry Abarbanel Theoretical analysis of cellular and network neurobiology
Olga Dudko Single molecule biophysics; Global genomic interactions; Virus-cell fusion
Alexander Groisman High-throughput microfluidics and imaging for molecules to cells
Terence Hwa Dynamics and evolution of genetic and metabolic networks
Suckjoon Jun Growth, evolution and chromosome dynamics in the cell cycle
David Kleinfeld Anatomy and dynamics of active sensation; neurovascular networks
Eva-Maria Schoetz Evolution, development, regeneration, and aging in simple systems
Douglas Smith Single-molecule studies of biomolecular interactions

Affiliated faculty:

Massimiliano Di Ventra Transport and physical approaches to DNA sequencing
Michael Holst Algorithms for computational models in biophysics
Tatyana Sharpee Informatic approaches to sensory representation
Sunil Sinha Structure and dynamics of model membrane systems

Affiliated researchers:

Mark Paddock Mitochondria and iron-sulfur binding proteins
Wouter-Jan Rappel Cardiac dynamics; cell signaling and multicellular pattern formation

Our research addresses the reproduction, evolution, and intelligence of living matter. Some current topics are:

Biophysics Research
  • Forces and dynamics of viral DNA packaging
  • Viral-cell fusion
  • Empirical growth rules for bacteria
  • Chromosome and plasmid segregation in bacteria
  • Chemotaxis and cell-to-cell communication
  • Competition and collaboration in microbial ecology
  • Spatiotemporal patterning in developing animals
  • Parameter estimation for neurons and networks
  • Micro- and macroscopic aspects of tissue rheology
  • Coordinated sensorimotor activity in brain circuits
  • Blood flow and brain neurovascular networks
  • Cardiac ion channels and tissue dynamics
  • Evolution, reproduction, regeneration, and aging in microbes and simple animals

Upper division and graduate courses provide an introduction to fundamental and cutting edge issues in biological physics. These include:

Physics 173 / BGGN 266 Contemporary Physics and Biophysics Project Laboratory
Physics 175/275 Fundamentals of Biological Physics
Physics 176/276 Quantitative Molecular Biology
Physics 177/277 Dynamical Systems and Neurodynamics (to be announced)
Physics 178/278 Biophysics of Neurons and Networks
Physics 179/279 Biophysics of Development and Pattern Formation (to be announced)

Theoretical studies in Biological Physics are supported, in part, through the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics that is funded by the National Science Foundation and encompasses faculty at Rice University, The Salk Institute, and UC San Diego. Scholarships are available.

We are pleased to support undergraduate thesis projects in all areas of Biological Physics, in addition to research carried out by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.