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Theoretical Biophysics


Admission Requirements

A basic understanding of statistical physics is necessary. Material from Classical Mechanics B is also helpful but not absolutely necessary.


Biophysics is different from “ordinary” physics as it studies systems that came about by evolution. In this course you learn that quantitative theoretical physics approaches are an essential ingredient to understand biological systems. This course treats biophysics at a level appropriate to MSc students: a mix of lectures, in-class discussions, reading assignments, homework, and student presentations of recent scientific papers. The following topics are discussed:
1. DNA packaging into nucleosomes, including worm-like chain, nucleosome breathing, micromanipulation experiments, Euler elasticas, Kirchhoff kinetic analogy, dynamical force spectroscopy
2. Polymer physics and critical phenomena, including random and self-avoiding walks, Flory argument, blob picture, critical points in ferromagnet systems, n-vector model, the limit n=0 as self-avoiding loops
3. DNA melting, including the Poland-Scheraga model, its partition function and the corresponding melting curve. Does DNA melt via a first-order phase transition? The answer lies in the Chapter 2 on polymer physics.

Course Objectives

After completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Solve complicated problems in DNA mechanics and DNA melting

  • Analyze scientific papers in biophysics and present the essence thereof to an audience

  • Critically assess the usefulness of handwaving explanations of results found in biophysics experiments

Generic Skills (Soft Skills)

You will be able to:

  •  master a new field of study in biophysics within a given time period

  •  present your findings to fellow students in a convincing and inspiring way


Physics Schedule

Mode of instruction

mix of lectures, in-class discussions, reading assignments, homework, and student presentations of recent scientific papers

Assessment method

The final grade is composed of three components: student presentation of a recent research paper (6/10th), homework (2/10) and final test (2/10).


Summary of each lecture, homework sheets, scientific papers (to be presented by students), reading assignments and scripts for parts of the lecture
To have access to Blackboard you need a ULCN-account.Blackboard UL

Reading list

Suggested reading material: H. Schiessel: “Biophysics for Beginners: Journey through the Cell Nucleus” Pan Stanford Publishing,


Lecturer: Prof.dr. H. Schiessel (Helmut)