MPHY2002: Introduction to Biophysics


Course information

Unit value
Year of study
Course organiser
Second examiners
Dr Adrien Desjardins

Dr. Gustavo Santos and Dr. Kirill Aristovich


This course provides an introduction to biophysics of the human body. It forms part of the Physics with Medical Physics (BSc), Medical Physics (MSci) and Natural Sciences (BSc and MSci) undergraduate degrees.

Aims and Objectives

The aims of this course are three-fold: a) to explore the biophysics of signalling and movement at the cellular level; b) to introduce mathematical modelling in biophysics; c) to appreciate how biophysical measurements can be acquired and used in clinical environments. At the cellular level, topics will include: diffusion, membrane potentials, ion channels, synapses, action potentials, contraction of muscle cells, and neural coding. Guest lectures from clinicians will cover electrocardiography (ECG), electromyography (EMG), and anaesthesia.

Teaching and exams

Teaching will consist of:

  • Lectures, 26 hours.
  • Guest lectures, 4-6 hours.
  • Seminars/problem classes, 3-6 hours.
  • Required written work (essays, problem sheets), 20 hours.
  • Private reading, 30 hours.

The assessment will consist of:

  • 1 Unseen written examination (2.5 hours) worth 80% of the total course mark.
  • 2 or 3 problem sheets and an e-learning project during term-time worth a total of 20% of the total course mark.


There are no strict prerequisites.


Biophysics is a multidisciplinary field that spans physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. In this course, we will focus on understanding how signalling and movement occur at the cellular level, and how they are measured. From a biology perspective, we will explore the constituents of tissues and cells; from a physics perspective, we will develop mathematical models to understand the dynamics between these constituents. We will gain an appreciation for different methods of measuring signalling and movement in a clinical environment, with an emphasis on relating measurements that are performed at the surface of the human body to underlying cellular processes.

Brief Syllabus

  1. Cell physiology
  2. Probability
  3. Diffusion
  4. Membrane potentials
  5. Ion channels
  6. Synapses
  7. Action potentials
  8. Muscle contractions
  9. Neural coding and decoding

Core Text

  • Course notes