About the Biophysics Graduate Program
The Biophysics Graduate Program features two primary areas of research: Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Molecular Biophysics. Our program is designed to assist young scientists in developing the research skills they need to thrive in academic and clinical settings. Our program offers an informal atmosphere where students are able to work closely with faculty members, as well as other graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
The Magnetic Resonance Imaging track places particular emphasis on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A particularly active area of research is functional MRI (fMRI) of the human brain (e.g., neuroscience, contrast mechanisms, technical development), which is the measurement of the indirect consequences of locally increased neural activity—increased blood flow and increased blood oxygenation, both confined to the region near the neural activation. Our fMRI program emphasizes the following:
- The development and application of faster imaging methods, with a principal application of mapping human brain function (fMRI);
- The quantitation of clinically relevant imaging parameters such as differential relaxation times in cancerous and normal brain tissues, which can aid in the diagnosis of cancerous tissue; and
- The development of more rigorous mathematical and statistical techniques for modeling and analyzing MRI and fMRI experiments. Fourier image reconstruction and computing of statistical activations are integral parts of MRI/fMRI.
Research also focuses on the basic physics and mechanisms of MRI. Designing improved hardware, experimental protocols and post-processing algorithms is key to achieving the goals of this program.
Research directions that stem from these goals include:
- Creating new, faster imaging techniques and hardware
- Understanding the precise interaction between basic neural events, their physiological consequences (e.g., blood oxygenation changes) and the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signal
- Developing new mathematical and statistical models for Fourier image reconstruction and the precise quantification of activations in structure-function relationships
Instrumentation for fMRI research is maintained by the Center for Imaging Research.
Students interested in fMRI research are encouraged to apply directly to the Biophysics Graduate Program or enter our program through the Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP)
The Molecular Biophysics track encompasses the investigation, detection and use of free radicals and paramagnetic metal ions in biological systems using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy.
- Free radicals are an integral part of cellular communication and are also involved in many disease processes (e.g., atherosclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease).
- Stable free radicals can be introduced at any site in a protein or peptide by a technique known as site-directed spin labeling. Free radicals are excellent reporters of their environment and, therefore, can be used to investigate protein structure and functional dynamics.
- Paramagnetic metal ions are central to most biological processes and electron transfer systems.
Research in the Department of Biophysics focuses on:
- The study of nitric oxide, a free radical involved in the control of blood pressure, memory and inflammation
- Understanding the role of oxidants and antioxidants in signal transduction and apoptosis
- Site-directed spin-labeling studies of bacterial toxins, mammalian receptors, essential bacterial transport proteins and other biomedically relevant proteins, peptides and lipid membranes
- Investigating the function of biological membranes and the effects of cholesterol, macular carotenoids and integral membrane proteins on their properties
- Biomedically important metal-ion-containing proteins such as superoxide dismutase, a free-radical-scavenging enzyme that contains an active-site copper
- The development of advanced EPR instrumentation and new EPR methodologies
The Department of Biophysics houses the National Biomedical EPR Center, one of the few national centers for EPR-related research, as well as the Free Radical Research Center and the Redox Biology Center.
Students interested in the biomedical application of EPR spectroscopy to the study of biology, biochemistry and structural biology should enter our program through the Interdisciplinary Program (IDP) in Biomedical Sciences. Students with more of a physical background who are interested in specializing in EPR instrumentation development should apply directly to the Biophysics Graduate Program.