Learning About Biophysics

If biophysics sounds interesting and you would like to learn more so you can decide about becoming a biophysics major, the information below should be helpful. People are usually the best source of information when learning about a topic so try meeting first with the Biophysics Director of Undergraduate Studies or with some of Duke's biophysics faculty.

Videos related to biophysics

The biophysics multimedia webpage contains links to videos and images that biophysics faculty and students have recommended as interesting.

Articles and talks related to biophysics

Books Related to Biophysics

Here are some biophysics-related books that can help you get a feeling for the subject:

  • Some textbooks on biophysics (these are rather technical but give a good sense of what biophysics majors learn):
  • On Growth and Form by D'Arcy Thompson. A classic fascinating book about how one can understand many forms and structures of biological organisms using physical reasoning.
  • Engineering Animals: How Life Works by Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean. Enjoyable non-technical survey of how physics constrains and determines the structure of various multicellular organisms.
  • Life's Devices: The Physical World of Animals and Plants by Steven Vogel. An entertaining book about biomechanics.
  • What A Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz. A short readable thought-provoking book about how plants sense the world. Did you know that typical plants, although they lack eyes, have ten or more different kinds of photoreceptors for detecting light versus the four kinds of receptors in the human eye? What is the biophysics of that?
  • What is Life? by Erwin Schrodinger. A short older book written by one of the creators of the quantum theory, that played an important historical role in convincing many physicists to get involved with biological problems. This book helped to trigger the molecular biology revolution, as discussed in the Eighth Day of Creation.
  • Origins of Life by the theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson. Yet another short thought-provoking and insightful book. The discussion shows how many physics-related issues are deeply related to the question of how life began.
  • The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology, 25th Anniversary Editionby Horace Judson. A long but enjoyable book about the various research threads that led to the discovery of DNA and how DNA is read and translated into proteins, also how the structures of certain proteins were first figured out. Although the title sounds like a biology book, many of the key players had physics backgrounds and used their physics training to contribute to the discoveries that led to the molecular biology revolution.
  • Some books related to the biophysics of understanding brains:
    • Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, a visual tour of brain structure as revealed by successive advances in chemistry, genetics, microscopy, and physics. As the physicist Richard Feynman said in his Feynman Lectures, solving problems in biology often reduce to being able to see what is going on, and this book shows how far technology (biophysics!) has evolved in allowing one to see.
    • Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are by Sebastian Seung. A non-technical book written for laypeople, it is a discussion of current efforts to create the technology needed to determine the wiring diagram (connectivity matrix) of large brain regions and what success will imply. The book provides a remarkable and enjoyable overview of current neuroscience.
    • The Question for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach by Christof Koch. Can one use quantitative scientific methods to pin down and measure consciousness? If so, how?
  • An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits by Uri Alon.
  • Mechanics of Motor Proteins and the Cytoskeleton by Jonathan Howard.

Websites related to biophysics

  • The Biophysical Society webpage, especially the list of abstracts discussed in the annual Biophysics meeting, can give you a sense of current questions that biophysicists are investigating.