Biophysics

Biophysics lab

The Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan is an interdisciplinary gateway program that coordinates admissions and the first year of Ph.D. studies for 14 department programs, including Biophysics.

PIBS offers you the flexibility and convenience of applying to any of our participating programs through one application. We invite you to thoroughly explore Biophysics and the other 13 programs before selecting your top preferences when you apply.

Program Overview

Initiated in 1949, the Biophysics Ph. D. program is one of the first such programs in the world. From the very early days, this program has been at the forefront of the new discipline of biophysics, and the home of many recognized leaders, including M. Beer, H.R. Crane, C. Levinthal, H.M. Randall, G. Sutherland, C. Thomas, and R. Williams.

The Biophysics program has two main objectives:

  • To provide graduate students with both intellectual and technical training in biophysics to prepare them for a career in biophysical research and teaching. This is achieved by providing our students with a solid working knowledge in three key areas: physics, chemistry, and biology.
  • To sensitize students to the power and unique opportunities of interdisciplinary work and thinking, and to train them to conduct research that crosses the boundaries between the biological and physical sciences.

The faculty participating in the Biophysics program represent more than 15 basic and clinical science departments and provide expertise in a wide range of areas of contemporary molecular, cellular and systems biophysics.

Research Areas

Upon completing their research rotations, Biophysics students select a laboratory and a faculty mentor for their thesis research. There are approximately 40 faculty across the University participating in our program. Students are offered the opportunity to conduct research in a variety of areas of contemporary biophysics, including:

  • Structural biology
  • Single molecule microscopy
  • Optical spectroscopy and its applications
  • NMR spectroscopy
  • Computational biology and bioinformatics
  • Membrane biophysics
  • Neurobiophysics
  • Mechanistic enzymology

Biophysics promotes interdisciplinary partnerships, and the opportunity to work in this environment of a scientific melting pot encourages our students to learn each other’s scientific language and acquire the essential skill sets to become biophysicists.

Explore our faculty.

Program Requirements

Coursework

Considering the diversity of our incoming students, the curriculum we offer has to accomplish two goals: (a) provide a common academic base; and (b) accommodate the different backgrounds of the students.

The Program provides coursework in three areas: the physical sciences, the biological sciences, and biophysics. All students take four core courses in biophysics: Biophysical Chemistry and Biophysical Techniques.

A minimum of two electives are required of each student and are chosen, in consultation with faculty advisors, so as to match individual student’s interests and needs. Cognate courses and electives are chosen to assure that each student attains competence in the broad areas of physics/physical chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology.

To familiarize incoming students with the different research topics and laboratory environments offered by the program, all first-year students take part in term-long research rotations among the various Biophysics faculty. Students typically perform two or three research rotations in their chosen laboratories before selecting a research advisor. Students also meet faculty and familiarize themselves with their research during the annual Biophysics poster session as well as during our weekly seminar.

Preliminary Examination

Students are expected to pass an oral preliminary examination in order to attain candidacy. This oral presentation may be on the student’s own research. Students are expected to achieve candidacy no later than the spring of their second year.

Teaching Requirement

Although there are no formal teaching requirements, as part of their training students are strongly encouraged to teach at least one semester as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in Biophysics, Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry or Physics.

Expected Length of Program

The curriculum, intended to be completed in five years, is a balance of original research, advanced course work, seminars and teaching experience.

Student Interests

Two main student constituencies are served by the Biophysics IDP: students with a training in the physical sciences (physics, chemistry, engineering, and mathematics) who wish to apply their expertise and perspectives to biological systems, and students with background in the life sciences (biology, biochemistry, molecular biology) who wish to incorporate the powerful tools of the physical sciences in their work and/or to apply a more quantitative approach to basic biomedical research.

Career Expectations

Most of our students have gone on to take postdoctoral positions in first-rate laboratories at Stanford, Caltech, Harvard, the University of Illinois, the Weizmann Institute, Northwestern, and UC Davis. Some have sought experience in industrial laboratories such as at Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company.

Following postdoctoral training, our students have been very successful in securing faculty positions at outstanding institutions such as Yale, Cornell, MIT, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, Swathmore College, and Brandeis, for example. Some opted for industrial positions in companies ranging from large pharmaceutical companies to biotechnology start-ups.