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Biological Physics

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Many physicists have been drawn to the study of biology by the desire to understand the mechanisms of living organisms. They have found a good place to work in an applied science that lies at the boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology.

Some (such as Francis Crick) have contributed profoundly to our understanding of life. Others have found that their skill as experimentalists can change medicine, as evidenced by such advances ascomputedtomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Yet others have used their skills in mathematics to propose theories for neural networks, electron transfer and non-linear phenomena such as heart rhythms. All have experienced the enrichment of working at the borders of a discipline. [Adapted from theAPS Division of Biological Physics.]

The following research programs in biological physics are currently accessible through Rochester's Department of Physics and Astronomy. Professor Thomas Foster works on fundamental problems of photodynamic therapy. In this technique, radiation and chemicals act locally with the help of oxygen to destroy cancerous cells. Foster studies the process at the molecular interaction stage and has made important advances in the quantitative aspects of this therapy.

Professor Jianhui Zhong works on the use and development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for studying changes in biological tissues. Recent works include the:

  • Modeling of reduced diffusion in brain ischemia
  • Diffusion-weighted MRI for detection of neuronal electrical activities
  • Quantitative measurements of tumor oxygenation and flow
  • Development of intermolecular multiple-quantum coherence (iMQC) MRI.

Both Professor Foster's and Professor Zhong's laboratories are in the University's Strong Memorial Medical Center.

Professor Louis Rothberg's group 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.

Professor Oakes is a biological physicist who specializes in shape, adhesion, and cytoskeletal architecture of individual cells, in an effort to understand the relation between external environmental signals, internal stimuli, and the molecular motors which make up the cytoskeleton and determine the shapes of cells. His lab features high-resolution microscopy, with spinning-confocal and epifluorescence microscopes.

Additional opportunities for research in biological physics exist with faculty in other units of the University. Professor Mathews is a theorist in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the University Medical Center. His group in interested in problems relating to the prediction of RNA structure from its sequence, using both low and high resolution models.

Professor Robert Knox, whose program principally involved undergraduate students and postdoctoral scientists, worked on the photochemical physics of molecules involved with photosynthesis. His special interest was the theory of the mechanisms of transfer of solar excitation energy throughout the chlorophyll systems of plants and bacteria.

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