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Biophysics at UCSF

Why is biophysics important?

The application of biophysical techniques is essential to our understanding of:

  • The structure, motion, and function of biological macromolecules.
  • Membrane structure and dynamics.
  • Transport and permeability.
  • Cellular motion and muscle contraction.
  • Cell energetic.
  • DNA replication.
  • Information transfer and cell cycles.

Almost all of the important discoveries related to biochemistry have used biophysical techniques. Examples include:

  • Protein structure determination by crystallography electron spin resonance
  • Protein structure determination by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy
  • Application of nanotechnology to study and manipulate biology

Why is now an ideal time for the field?

Rapid developments in enabling technologies give today’s biophysicists the tools to excel. Nanotechnology, high-resolution X-ray diffraction, optical and electron microscopy, microfluidics, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy allow the study of biological systems in increasing detail. These enabling technologies allow scientists to solve exciting problems such as determining the structure and mechanism of very large molecular complexes, which include molecular motors and ion channels, and understanding genome dynamics. Dissecting these molecular machines and how they work is the basis of the emerging field of synthetic biology.

Why train in biophysics at UCSF?

Early access to emerging technologies allows students in the UCSF Biophysics Graduate Program to explore biology in entirely new ways before these technologies are generally available to other scientists. As important, the Biophysics faculty has achieved high recognition both nationally and internationally for its accomplishments; more than 10 members of the faculty are members of the National Academy of Sciences. UCSF faculty members pioneered applications of electron microscopy, crystallography, NMR, and image reconstruction techniques. As one measure of its strength, the UCSF Biophysics Graduate program ranks among the top in the U.S. according to a September 28, 2010 report by the National Research Council.

UCSF takes an interdisciplinary approach to education.

UCSF is known widely for its success in interdisciplinary PhD science education. Students not only share courses and attend seminars across fields, they also rotate through laboratories and eventually settle in the laboratories of particular principal investigators, all the while training alongside students in other programs.

This interdisciplinary approach to graduate education is reflected in how graduate programs are often grouped together to leverage their strengths. The Biophysics Graduate Program, for example, is:

UCSF's research atmosphere is one of collaboration.

At UCSF, all graduate students learn from the most accomplished faculty in the world for whom collaboration is a shared commitment. UCSF was founded in 1864 when California was still a frontier and San Francisco was a place for the bold and fearless. That pioneering spirit remained with UCSF and is reflected today in its discoveries—from oncogenes to prions, from how telomeres function to how DNA can be spliced. In fact the technique of recombinant DNA developed here spawned the entire biotechnology revolution. The accomplishments of UCSF scientists are reflected as well by their success in attracting research dollars.

The UCSF scientific community is welcoming.

UCSF is a place that welcomes diversity. It is a place where the faculty is engaged in the success of each graduate student. UCSF graduate students have ready access to faculty members; work with people of all backgrounds, ages, cultures, orientations, and perspectives; meet and discuss and debate ideas; and hold impromptu meetings with scientists in hallways and cafes.

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