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Physics of Life (from DNA to protein)



Mathematics and Physics on Dutch high school VWO level

Note: This class is taught in English.


This introductory lecture deals with the thermodynamic and molecular basis of modern biophysics.

In weekly 2-hour lectures, the emphasis will be on a quantitative description of topics from biology, such as the behavior of polymers (DNA and proteins) or cellular transport processes.

Course objectives

You will be able to specify how the laws of physics constrain and shape living systems and how to apply a physics approach to fundamental problems in biology.

After this class you will be able to:

  • name the most important components of a cell

  • apply the diffusion equation to transport processes in cells

  • apply basic probability theory to questions in heredity

  • calculate the change in disorder (entropy) for simple thermodynamic processes

  • describe biological systems in equilibrium using the Boltzmann distribution

Transferable skills

  • you prepare the lectures by studying the lecture material (book) and test your knowledge in online quizzes

  • you apply conceptual insights to concrete problem sets

  • you plan ahaead and study continuously to spread the study load over the whole semester


For detailed information go to Timetable in Brightspace

Mode of Instruction

Zie Brightspace

Assessment method

Written exam and quizzes on Brightspace. The final mark is calculated according to: final grade = max (exam, 0.8 \ * exam + 0.2 \ * quiz). The quiz results will not contribute to the grade of the retake exam.


Registration for Brightspace occurs via uSis by registration for a class activity using a class number

Reading list

Biological Physics: Energy, Information, Life, Philip Nelson, ISBN 0716798972 (Purchase required; This book is also used by Physics of Life - From Motors to Nerve Pulses). Chapters 1 through 7 are discussed.


Dr. Stefan Semrau