Biological Physics

As an interface between multiple fields, the opportunities for research span a variety of broad approaches. Within the department there are the following research focus areas

Tissue Morphogenesis

Professor Dan Bergstralh and his research group study how single-cell behaviors, including division and cell-cell adhesion, are coordinated to build and maintain biological tissues. The lab uses high-resolution live-imaging to address this set of problems, and employs a range of biological systems that includes fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and three-dimensional cultured tissue models. Professor Bergstralh’s lab is located in the Biology Department.

Medical Imaging

Professor Jianhui Zhong works on the use and development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for studying changes in biological tissues. Recent focuses of his work include modeling of reduced diffusion in brain ischemia, diffusion-weighted MRI for the detection of neuronal electrical activities, quantitative measurements of tumor oxygenation and flow, and the development of intermolecular multiple-quantum coherence (iMQC) MRI. 

Professor Zhong's laboratory is in the University's Medical Center.

Biomolecular Sensing

Professor Lewis Rothberg works on biomolecular sensing and develops new assays that are useful for clinical and research applications. These are based on optical or electrical detection of small quantities of unmodified oligonucleotides or important proteins, and are carried out in collaboration with researchers at the Medical Center.

Neural Responses and Behavior

Professor Ralf Haefner's primary scientific interest lies in understanding how the brain forms percepts and uses them to make decisions, especially in the visual domain. In particular, he is interested in how the brain's perceptual beliefs about the outside world are represented by the responses of populations of cortical neurons and how their spiking activity gives rise to percepts and decisions. Mathematical models are constructed and used to try and explain neural responses and behavior.

Additional Research Opportunities

Research opportunities in biological physics exist with faculty in other units of the University.

Professor David Matthews is a theorist in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the University Medical Center. His group is interested in problems relating to the prediction of RNA structure from its sequence, using both low and high-resolution models.

Professor Alan Grossfield's lab uses molecular modeling to understand how structure and fluctuations control biological function. Historically, they've focused on biological membranes and membrane proteins, particularly the mammalian dim-light receptor rhodopsin and other G protein-coupled receptors, as well as the thermodynamics and kinetics underlying the functions of membrane-active antimicrobial lipopeptides. More recently, his group has also begun work to understand the physical origins of amyloid formation of alpha-synuclein, the primary protein found in the insoluable plaques characteristic of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The department also participates in the MD/PhD program at the University, enabling particularly well prepared students the opportunity to work simultaneously toward the MD degree and the PhD degree in physics.

Biological Physics Links