Fall 2017 - PHYS 433W D100

Biophysics Laboratory (4)

Class Number: 4734

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 1:30 PM – 2:20 PM
    SSCP 8446, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    Prerequisite PHYS 231 or MBB 309; PHYS 344 or PHYS 347 or MBB 323 or CHEM 360, with a minimum grade of C- or permission of the department.



Experiments in biological and soft condensed matter physics including investigation of Brownian motion, molecular order and biophysical forces using techniques such as optical trapping, NMR, spectroscopy and x-ray diffraction. Attention will also be given to more general skills, including experimental design, operating and troubleshooting experimental equipment, data analysis, and the presentation of experimental results. Students with credit for PHYS 433W may not take this course for credit. Writing.


This course introduces a few of the experimental techniques by which physicists approach biological problems. Specific goals include

  • for physicists to gain hands-on experience with standard biological techniques
  • for biologists to gain a quantitative understanding of standard biological techniques
  • learn about current leading-edge biophysical techniques, by gaining hands-on experience with these instruments, data acquisition, and analysis
  • understand the length, time and force scales that are relevant to molecular and cellular processes (e.g., how quickly do molecules diffuse? How fast can a bacterium swim? What ranges of force are relevant to different types of motion?).
  • become an independent scientist, through a project that requires designing, performing, analyzing and presenting the results of physical investigations of a biological system

The first part of the course involves six modules exploring different experimental techniques:

  • Micropipette calibration
  • DNA electrophoresis
  • Microscopy and cell motility
  • Optical tweezers
  • Spectroscopy and light scattering
  • Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy

The second part of the course is spent on students’ independent projects, based on current research in the biological physics literature. For your projects, you will use some of the techniques you learn to probe physical properties of a biological system. The independent project should include a wet-lab portion (production of the biological system of interest) as well as physical measurements and quantitative analysis. The course will culminate in a scientific poster session during which all students present the work of their independent projects.

This is a fourth-year physics course, and, as such, it will demand a lot of time and quantitative analysis. In-laboratory discussions and a mid-term quiz are designed to promote active learning and understanding of the concepts being probed in the laboratory.


  • Laboratory work 37%
  • Analysis assignments 10%
  • Writing assignments 10%
  • Formal report 15%
  • Independent project 28%
  • Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 10% / day.




Lab coat, lab notebook

Required text:

Statistics: A Guide to the Use of Statistical Methods in the Physical Sciences
Author: Barlow
ISBN: 9780471922957

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Students who cannot write their exam during the course's scheduled exam time must request accommodation from their instructor in writing, clearly stating the reason for this request, before the end of the first week of classes.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html