MPhys Physics with Astrophysics / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Physics of Living Processes

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS30732
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


The Physics of Living Processes


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Dynamics PHYS10101 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Properties of Matter PHYS10352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Statistical Mechanics PHYS20352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory

Follow - Up Units

PHYS40411 - Frontiers of Solid State Physics

PHYS40631 - Laser Photomedicine

PHYS40732 - Biomaterials


To introduce the topic of biological physics and to devevlop an understanding of some physical tools to solve problems in the life sciences. 

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, students should be able to: 

1. Describe the main domains within a cell and the major types of biological molecule to provide a broad overview of molecular biophysics. 

2. Analayse the behaviour of biological materials using models from soft condensed matter physics to allow quantitative predications to be made. 

3. Compare the main experimental techniques used in biological physics, appraise their usage to solve biological problems and demonstrate an understanding from the perspective of the underlying physical principles. 

4. Construct and interpet a range of basic models that underpin systems biology based on the activity of transcription networks. 

5. Explain the basic models of electrophysiology and describe how they relate to the study of brains and the senses based on the underlying physics principles. 



1. Building blocks           (2 lectures)

2. Soft-condensed matter in biology                                 (10 lectures)
Mesoscopic forces
Phase transitions
Aggregating self-assembly
Surface phenomena
Charged ions and polymers

3. Experimental techniques          (2 lectures)
Photonics techniques, mass spectroscopy, thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, single molecule methods, electron microscopy, NMR, osmotic pressure, chromatography, electrophoresis, sedimentation, rheology, tribology.

4. Systems biology          (4 lectures)
Chemical kinetics
Enzyme kinetics
Introduction to systems biology

5. Spikes, brains and the senses        (4 lectures)
Physiology of cells and organisms
The senses

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

* Other 10% Tutorial Work/attendance 

Feedback methods

Tutorial solutions for the example sheets will be marked every week and model answers will be provided.

Recommended reading

Recommended texts
Waigh, T.A. The Physics of Living Processes: a Mesoscopic Approach (Wiley 2014)

Supplementary reading
Alberts, B. Essential Cell Biology (Garland 2008)
Alon, U. Introduction to Systems Biology (CRC 2007)
Cotterill, R. Biophysics: An Introduction (Wiley 2002)
Hobbie, R.K., Roth B.J. Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology (Springer 2007)
Nelson, P. Physical Models of Living Systems (Freeman, 2015)
Phillips, R. Kondev J., Theriot, J., Garcia H.G., Physical Biology of the Cell (Garland, 2013)
Waigh, T.A. Critical Questions in Biological Physics (IOP 2017)

Recommended website

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Anne Juel Unit coordinator
Thomas Waigh Unit coordinator

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