It’s Biophysics Week! If the term ‘biophysics’ gets your head scratching, don’t worry – it is very likely you haven’t heard much about it because it’s a relatively new field. As a scientific discipline, biophysics began in the middle of the twentieth century, which is only about sixty years ago! In 1958, the Biophysics Society was founded to encourage the development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. In 2016, the Biophysics Society started an annual Biophysics Week to celebrate and raise the awareness of the field. Check out their website for more information and visit the British Biophysical Society page for the UK based biophysics news!

Here at the Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics, we have many top-notch biophysicists doing amazing research. To shed some light on the biophysics research done at our department, we’ve asked group leaders to share what they do and what got them into this exciting field! Check out what Dr. Susan Cox has to say about biophysics!

Dr. Susan Cox

susan coxSusan is a Royal Society University Research Fellow here at King’s and her group is working on improving super-resolution microscopy techniques to help visualise molecular structures in the cells.

We’ve asked Susan a few questions about biophysics – answers below!

What got you interested in biophysics? While I was doing my first degree in Physics, Oxford hired Richard Berry as the first academic in Biological Physics, and that’s when I became aware of it as a research area. But when I started my degree I was a terrible snob! I was sure I would go into high energy particle physics. Ironically, I went on to become fascinated by the interface between physics, materials science, and nanotechnology. Then, after my PhD and first postdoc, I decided I wanted to use my expertise in data analysis and microscopy in a new area, and I decided to move into biophysics because it still has so many vast frontiers that we’re only just starting to explore.

Explain your area of research in two sentences. My group works on developing new ways to image cells at the nanoscale. We use these methods to image the cytoskeleton and to understand how it exerts, and is affected by, force.

Who is your favourite biophysicist? That’s a really tough call! I think I’ll pick Andrew Huxley*, I’ve always been amazed not just at the work he did, but how much equipment he developed to enable the work to be done.

*Sir Andrew Huxley was an English biophysicist, who shared the Nobel prize in 1963 with Sir Alan Hodgkin and Sir John Eccles for unravelling the mechanism of the nerve impulse. He designed and made essential and highly specialised equipment, which enabled him to study the nerve cells in the squid. 

squid
Squid and neuroscience: squid’s giant axon was a used by Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir Alan Hodgkin to study how the action potential is transferred through the nerve cells.

What is your favourite biophysical technique? Anything that involves an image, particularly microscopy because that’s really where my heart is. But I’m fascinated by all different kinds of microscopy – fluorescence microscopy, atomic force microscopy, transmission electron microscopy – I think because there’s something so immediate about seeing your sample right there in front of you.

Can you give us an example of biophysics applied in our daily lives? I love Newton’s experiments where he investigated the properties of the eye and how they affect sight by sticking a sewing needle into his eye socket. It’s got a little of everything I like: optics, materials properties, biology, and amazing hand-drawn diagrams. But I wouldn’t recommend applying it in daily life…