Meet the Major: Biophysics allows students to study the basic processes of life
Studying biomolecular processes at the nanometer scale is not an opportunity offered by all major schools or even all universities. With the oldest undergraduate program in the nation, the Thomas C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics at Hopkins has organized a closely related major that allows students to study the processes of life while incorporating perspectives from biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. A naturally collaborative major, biophysics offers rigorous training for those who wish to study the intersection of these fields.
In an interview with The News-LetterAssociate Professor Sua Myong, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Biophysics, discussed the field.
“I was a molecular and cell biology student at the University of California, Berkeley, but I wanted something with more math and physics,” she said. “Major in biophysics here would have been a dream come true.”
Myong explained the interdisciplinary nature of the major.
“Students say they’re hesitant to major in biophysics because physics isn’t their strong point, but you don’t have to excel in physics,” she said. “Many students are comfortable with physics and math down to differential equations and linear algebra, but in-depth courses specifically in physics and math aren’t part of the core of the major now. However , students can often take more physics-based courses in the department if they are also interested.
Myong outlined the requirements for the major.
“There are only five core courses in the major, two research semesters, and an advanced seminar,” she said. “This allows students to specialize in different areas, as many students can then also double major or minor in a specific area like applied math and statistics, for example.”
According to Bruno Lança, a 21-year major alumnus, two of the best things about the major are the small class sizes and the welcoming feeling of the whole department.
“With this major, you’re going to find a home in Hopkins…You’re going to find this group of people that even though they’re not your friends to begin with, they’ll be in an academic capacity, and some will be in a social capacity as well” , he said. “You will also find some very good mentors among the professors. Throughout my time at Hopkins and my application cycle for medical school, I have felt really carried and supported by several department teachers.
Lança himself was drawn to the major after talking to older students and realizing he wanted to do more biochemistry. In fact, he spoke with Myong in his freshman year.
“It felt like the whole meeting was a hug; she introduced me to all these courses like Biochemistry I and II and Modeling of the living cell which corresponded to what I wanted to do, that is to say, to integrate biochemistry into the learning of the body,” he said. he declares. “Ultimately, the courses were perfect for me and I learned skills in computational biology and protein engineering that I now use in my work. Even with the courses which were quite challenging conceptually. I always felt that the teachers were invested in our learning and were always very willing to chat.
Hopkins’ Department of Biophysics is unique from other departments in the country, primarily because of its biomedical focus which is especially prominent in the School of Medicine. Additionally, there is an increasing emphasis on molecular biophysics at Hopkins, with significant research efforts focused on single molecules such as nucleic acids and proteins.
Lança noted that students should only choose this major if they are truly interested in the content covered.
“The major is best for those who really love the concepts, because if you don’t, it’s hard to keep advancing through some of the more rigorous and conceptually challenging classes,” he said. -he declares.
Outside of class, the department at Homewood Campus and the School of Medicine offers many research opportunities. Lança said the department is very willing to help students find research, and Myong recommended that students check the publications page of lab websites to better understand the research work when contacting mentors and labs. potentials.
There are also several department-wide events for undergraduates, such as career nights with graduate school graduates and other department liaison events. According to Myong, about 70% of majors are on the premedical track with the intention of applying to medical programs, with increasing percentages of students aiming to pursue doctoral studies or combined MD/PhD programs.
These class profiles show that the Biophysics major provides students with the opportunity to learn to address issues of biological relevance through interdisciplinary training with the goal of gaining a mechanistic understanding of life processes at the most basic levels. .
Lança shared his thoughts on how the major teaches students to develop as scientists.
“In biophysics, more than learning about content, you learn to think about questions…I think critical thinking skills are greatly developed in biophysics about science as a whole,” he said.