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Q & A: biophysics

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Hey, I’m doing a science project, and I’m wondering if it has anything to do with biophysics. Since I can’t find any explination on what biophysics is, I thought I’d send the question to this site. Your site helped lots on my last science project. :) So, What exactly is biophysics?
- Jason Ho (age 13)
A:
Jason- The name 'biophysics' refers to work on biological problems using techniques most familiar to physicists.
One current example from our department involves investigating how muscle proteins work by studying how one protein 'walks' along another, looking with very sensitive fluorescent microscopes at individual molecules. Sometimes as the biophysical tools become more routinely available, the same sort of work will continue but will be called biochemistry, or put into practice in medical settings. Examples of this latter kind of feeding into medicine from physics are X-ray diagnosis, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), PET scans (that's "positron-emission tomography, which depends on specially decaying radionuclides which produce positrons. Positrons annihilate with electrons to make a pair of photons, and detection of these photons can pinpoint the production location).

Sometimes biophyisicists use theoretical techniques developed by physicists to study biological patterns, but sometimes the same sort of work is called theoretical biology.

So the lines between theoretical biology, biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology are not especially sharp. When things go well, people with a variety of different skills work on the same biological problems.

Mike (and Tom)

(published on 10/22/2007)

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