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Physics of Life (from DNA to protein)




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.

Learning 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

Generic skills (soft 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




Weekly lectures


Written exam and quizzes on Blackboard. 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.


The slides are posted on Blackboard after each lecture. Every other week, problem sets related to a chapter are discussed or there is a quiz about a chapter. A ULCN account is required for access to Blackboard. Blackboard UL

Text book

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.

Contact details lecturer

Dr. Stefan Semrau