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Biological Physics

Instructor: Tobias Bollenbach

Teaching Assistant: Marcin Zagorski, Veronika Bierbaum



This course will briefly recapitulate concepts and techniques from statistical physics, thermodynamics, and dynamical systems theory, and apply them to key problems in biology. Questions we will address include: What distinguishes biological processes from equilibrium phenomena? How do biological molecules and cells move? What are the physical principles underlying gene regulation? What is the role of fluctuations in biology and what are the tools for describing them? We will illustrate these topics with specific examples, including some from synthetic biology. Part of the course will involve dissection of the primary literature with strong student participation. Knowledge of basic physics or mathematics (undergraduate level) is a prerequisite for taking this course.

need at least 50% of points on homework and exam to pass the course. Homework: 4 problem sets, final exam: ca. 2hrs, written.


Credits 3 ECTS


Final Grade
60% homework, 40% final exam


Schedule: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 1:45-3:00 PM, Mondi 1. Recitation: Thursdays, 3:15-4:05 PM, Mondi 1.

Date Topic  
May 5,7 Bionumbers: Physicist's introduction to cell composition and physiology  
May 12,19 Random walks and diffusion: diffusion equation, Langevin equation, FDT  
May 21,26 Equations of motion: friction, swimming, Reynolds number  
May 28, Jun 2 Polymer physics: properties of biopolymers, scaling laws, entropic forces  
Jun 9,11 Dynamical systems: nonlinear dynamics, stability analysis, bifurcations  
Jun 16,18 Simple genetic networks: genetic switch, repressilator  
Jun 23,25 Large biological networks: topology, statistical properties, random networks  
Jun 30, Jul 2 Exam week  

Homework & lecture notes

Homework Due  
recitation 1 May 12  
recitation 2 May 26  
recitation 3 June 9  
recitation 4 June 23  
Lecture notes Week  
lecture notes 1 Week 1  
lecture notes 3 Week 3  
lecture notes 4 Week 4, lecture 6,7  
lecture notes 5 Week 5  
lecture notes 6 Week 6  
lecture notes 7 Week 7  

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