CU Biological Physics Major

These pages are dedicated to information regarding a potential CU Biophysics Major.  Please add to the discussion!

Why does CU need a biological physics major?

There is a great interest in biological physics, both from our students (as evidenced by the success of the minor) as well as nationally, and internationally.  In 1999, when I first came to Creighton, Harold Varmus, M.D., director of the NIH addressed the American Physical Society (March Meeting) and advocated for a greater role of physicists in contemporary biological and medical research.

In the birth of modern molecular genetics, physicists contributed their analytic skills but they were not really doing physics, and many were not even using the computational or imaging tools of physics as many biologists do. But contemporary biology, especially decipering of genomes by nucleotide sequencing, is about to change that. Biology is rapidly becoming a science that demands more intense mathematical and physical analysis than biologists have been accustomed to, and such analysis will be required to understand the workings of cells.

He also addressed the limitation imposed by artificial disciplinary boundaries within the sciences:

In talking about the effects of one field on others, I have generally ignored the “boundary problem” – how do we distinguish among fields? We do this now, in part, by self identification…linked to the source of one’s graduate degree, and departmental names on dipolmas can become limits to exploration in adjacent field. But many of us in biology expect that, as studies of cells and molecules become more obviously in need of several disciplinary approaches, it will become increasingly difficult to label the science and to predict the kinds of degrees people do it should have…

While these statements were made ten years ago, the need for interdisciplinary training in the sciences remains. Five years ago, Bialek and Botstein echoed Varmus' call for interdisciplinary training for biologists

The emergence of new frontiers of research in functional genomic, molecular evolution, intracellular and dynamic imaging, systems neuroscience, complex diseases, and the system-level integration of signal transduction and regulatory mechanisms require an ever-larger fraction of biologists to confront deeply quantitative issues that connect to ideas from the more mathematical sciences. At the same time, increasing numbers of physical scientists and engineers are recognizing that exciting frontiers of their own disciplines lie in the study of biological phenomena. Characteristic of this new intellectual landscape is the need for strong interaction across traditional disciplinary boundaries [1].

The liberal arts, undergraduate institution is the ideal environment to implement this kind of training.  And Biological Physics in particular, with its heavy emphasis of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Material Science and Physics, requires the broadest scientific training.

At present, Creighton has a he biophysics minor that has been well accepted by biology and chemistry majors, in particular. The minor broadens the training in these two disciplines by requiring an extra year of physics (and an additional semester of calculus).  The proposed Biological Physics major will build upon the success of the biophysics minor to provide the broad, yet deep training in the sciences that Varmus and others have long advocated, within the appropriate context of a liberal arts education.

[1] W. Bialek and D. Botstein (2004) “Introductory Science and Mathematics education for 21st-century biologists” Science 303:788-790.


What is the target student population?

What is the trajectory for biophysicsajors ?

Biophysics programs like ...

Physics Graduate school?

Medical School?


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