Department Update - A New Major at Duke: Biophysics

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Duke’s Arts and Sciences Council recently approved a request from the physics department to create a new major in biophysics. The major will be administered by the physics department in close collaboration with the departments of biology, chemistry, and biomedical engineering. As Director of Undergraduate Studies, physics professor Seog Oh led the effort to create the new major. He says he had been hearing from undergrads for some time that they were interested in exploring the interface between physics and biology.

Biology offers lots of opportunities for physicists to use their problem-solving and data analysis skills to bear, Oh says. The field of genomics, for example, is generating massive quantities of data, which is something physicists have a lot of experience with. “Physics could make a very good contribution to biology and genetics,” Oh says. “I don’t want our students to be left out of this exciting area.” For the new major, students will take classes in physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics, as well as a biophysics seminar and lab. As the number of majors grows, the department may develop new biophysics courses. Oh says biophysics would be a good major for students who want to do interdisciplinary research relating to issues in biology, chemistry, or physics, as well as for those wanting a career in the health profession, pharmaceutical research, or science teaching. One of the physics department’s long-range goals is to increase its capacity in biophysics research among faculty members, several of whom are already involved in biophysics research. One of the new faculty members hired this year, Nicholas Buchler, is a biophysicist with a joint appointment in physics, biology, and the Institute for Genome Science and Policy. Professor Henry Greenside, who uses physics to study the way the brain works, will take over the post of Director of Undergraduate Studies in July when Oh’s term ends.