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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: How can DNA be packaged and accessible at the same time? Subjects covered include the structure of the DNA double helix, the worm-like chain model, Euler elasticas, Kirchhoff kinetic analogy, nucleosome breathing, micromanipulation experiments, dynamical force spectroscopy
2. DNA melting: What happens to DNA when we heat it, a smooth dissociation of its two strands or a dramatic first-order phase transition? Subjects covered include the relationship between polymer statistics and critical phenomena, the Poland-Scheraga model and the corresponding melting curves

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: the student presentation of a recent research paper (6/10th), homework (2/10) and a takehome exam (2/10).


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, Singapore, 2014


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