Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Biological physics vs. Biophysics

On the PHYS3170 blog, on of the students, Alex posted a perceptive question about clarifying the relation between biophysics and biological physics.

Certainly, different people will have different definitions. But, the question is worth thinking about if it helps clarify different approaches (which there certainly are).
Similar issues arise with physical chemistry vs. chemical physics.

Much of biophysics seems to be concerned with applying physics techniques to understand biological systems and processes.

Biological physics is particularly interesting when studying biological systems illuminates physical concepts and principles which hold independent of the system under study.
A master at this is John Hopfield, best known for his work on neural networks, which is now applied in computer science.

Another example, is how studying the protein folding problem led to energy landscape theory by Joseph Bryngelson and Peter Wolynes. Their approach introduced a Principle of minimal frustration and the notion of "folding funnel" energy landscapes which allow a protein via a large number of pathways. Such ideas of rugged energy landscapes are also relevant in non-biological systems such as glasses and artificial neural networks.

Two articles that discuss some of these ideas are a short Physics Today piece by Hopfield and a
Reviews of Modern Physics paper by Austin, Frauenfelder, and Wolynes.

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