Fall 2018 - PHYS 833 G100

Biological Physics Laboratory (3)

Class Number: 6728

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    SSCP 8446, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    PHYS 231 or MBB 309W; PHYS 347 or 344 or MBB 323 or CHEM 360; 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.


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?). 
  • develop as an independent scientist, through a project that requires designing, performing, analyzing and presenting the results of physical investigations of a biological system, based on previous work and/or hypotheses in the literature


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 make use of the techniques outlined above 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. As part of the project, you will be required to produce an annotated list of the relevant literature. The project must be chosen outside of your primary research expertise. The course will culminate in a scientific poster session during which all students present the work of their independent projects.


This is a graduate 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.




Marking scheme:
Laboratory work: 40%
• Punctuality, protocols prepared, pre-lab questions answered at start of each lab period: 5%
• Conceptual and practical understanding (answering questions during lab period about background and analysis): 10%
• Quantitative analysis and discussion of results (lab write-ups, due at the start of labs): 25%

Mid-term quiz : 15%

Independent project and presentation: 45%
• Research proposal: 10%
• Weekly progress towards practical goals and mastery of concepts and context: 15%
• Poster presentation of research project (including abstract, demonstration of quantitative analysis): 10%
• Annotated reading list of relevant background literature : 10%

Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 10% / day.

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

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