Program in Biophysics (preliminary)

The challenges of biology facing us are widely acknowledged to require the tools and principles of physics. We have entered the ‘post-reductionist’ era wherein the complexity of living systems must be retained in order to effectively explore the workings of biological networks and pathways. This complexity challenges our understanding of fundamental behaviors of physical and chemical systems, which has largely derived from studies of purified isolated molecules and macromolecules operating in highly dilute environments.

Students who intend to pursue careers in biological sciences will be greatly advantaged by strong interdisciplinary training in physical sciences. In fact, the optimal path will be coursework in physics, mathematics, chemistry as well as courses in biology. Courses that interweave the physical sciences with life sciences are being developed in many institutions from entering undergraduates through graduate curricula.

Faculty who engage in interdisciplinary research at the interface of biological and physical sciences benefit greatly from interactions. These may be formal collaborations, informal discussions, laboratory exchanges, providing expertise, sharing of equipment, etc. Many funding opportunities exist for groups of faculty with complementary interdisciplinary research focuses and for student training programs that provide interdisciplinary education.

There is a growing community of faculty in the Five Colleges with synergistic interests in physical and life sciences. The field of ‘biophysics’ is generally taken to encompass pursuit of fundamental life sciences questions using the tools and principles of physical sciences, notably physics and physical chemistry. Therefore, this concept paper proposes that we develop and discuss a Five-College Program in Biophysics that can be envisioned to have the following goals and components (all suggestions, subject to discussion among all constituents, which has not yet happened):

 * An interdisciplinary undergraduate major in biophysics, with course offerings at all campuses, organized to avoid duplication and maximize accessibility (i.e., time of day to be most convenient for travel from one institution to another)

* A Five-College seminar series in Biophysics, with a committee made up of representatives from all campuses and talk locations rotating from campus to campus

* A Five-College Biophysics Committee that helps to enhance and coordinate faculty hiring to enrich the strengths in this field in the Valley, to seek opportunities for funding for instruments that will help the community and be more competitive because of the participation

* A Five-College M.S. degree in Biophysics modeled after the 5-year M.S. degrees at UMass-Amherst in Biochemistry or Molecular and Cellular Biology. Students from any of the Five Colleges would be invited to apply.

* Web-based, Wiki style Five-College Biophysics communication enhancements.

* Video transmission of all relevant seminars to other campuses in an organized, well-publicized manner.