Introduction to Biophysics

Responsible: Prof. Jochen Guck

Hours per week (2)

Language: English

This course is an introduction to the physics of biological systems at the molecular and cellular level. The emphasis is on the design principles that living systems use to accomplish various cellular processes, enabling them to sense and react to their environment.  A set of case studies aims to demonstrate how physicists’ experience of the behaviour of complex systems can complement experimental investigations by biologists to explain how living systems work, and why biology is the way it is.

  • Cells: What's in a cell? Component molecules. Cellular processes. Significance of Brownian motion, noise and stochasticity.
  • Information and Regulation: DNA replication. RNA, transcription and translation. Promotors, repressors and operons, DNA topology. Gene regulatory networks.
  • Energy: Chemiosmotic theory. Membrane potential, Nernst relation, ion channels and pumps. Metabolism and the synthesis of ATP.
  • Structural elements: The cytoskeleton: mictrotubles, actin filaments, networks and gels.
  • Cell movements and locomotion. Mechanosensing.
  • Molecular machines: Motor proteins and isothermal ratchets. Mechanochemistry and the Kramers equation. Muscle contraction. Processive motors. Rotary motors.
  • Sensory cells: Hair cells in the ear. Active signal detection and cochlear mechanics. Phototransduction in the retina.
  • Nerve impulses: Axons and the action potential. Hodgkin-Huxley model. Spiking and bursting.


Essential Cell Biology, Alberts B et al. (Garland 2003).
Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life,
Nelson P (WH Freeman 2003).
Physical Biology of the Cell, Phillips, Kondev, Theriot (Garland Science, 2009).
Cell Movements, Bray D (Garland 2000).
Mechanics of Motor Proteins and the Cytoskeleton, Howard J (Sinauer 2000).

Lecture materials can be found here.

Prof. Dr. Jochen Guck
+49 351 463 40330 +49 351 463 40342