"I must confess that one reason we have
undertaken this biological work is that we thereby have been able to get financial
support for all of the work in the laboratory. As you know, it is much easier to
get funds for medical research."
- Ernest Lawrence to Niels Bohr, 1935
Ernest Lawrence and Niels Bohr, 1955
From the Editorial by R. V. Jones in Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 27 (1972).
|Tizard told a salutary story of Rutherford, when he was presiding over a meeting of the [Royal] Society, and had been listening for half-an-hour to a young biologist reading a paper. When the paper was finished Rutherford said, "Before I invite discussion on this paper there is one remark I would like to make. I have listened to you, sir, for half-an-hour, and although I believe I am considered to be a fairly intelligent man I have not understood a word you said. Now, would you mind getting up again, and telling us in five minutes what you did, why you did it, and what results you got?"|
From WHAT'S NEW by Robert L. Park - Friday, November 19, 2010
|Last week in describing the search for extraterrestrial life I recounted the celebration in the Eagle pub of the discovery of the structure of DNA, as told by James Watson in The Double Helix. I got a couple of lines in response from Raynor Smith that put it in perspective. I posted it above my desk and now share with you: "These great men did indeed discover the secret of life. The secret is to gather with friends in a warm pub, and raise your glass to celebrate your accomplishments, and likewise those of your friends, whether large and earthshaking or small and humble."|
Our very own Prof. Chris Bergevin is co-organizer of a conference on the Mechanics of Hearing. The conference is to held at June 19-24, 2017, at Brock University. Sounds like fun (pun intended).
Of course the central question is,
biophysics? (from the Biophysics Journal, March, 2016).
Another attempt at an answer is given in
the cell. There is also
The physics of life
(January, 2016), (see rebuttal of this at
Starlings' patterns are not spontaneous - March, 2016),
Physical Models of Living Systems (January, 2015) - see author interview
Questions and answers with Philip Nelson (January, 2015) - and
Does cell biology need
physicists? (January, 2011).
"Classical" physics - like fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism - is useful in the description of a number of biological systems. The recent interest has centred around whether quantum phenomena play a role at the macroscopic level of, say, DNA (e.g., Does quantum entanglement in DNA synchronize the catalytic centers of type II restriction endonucleases?) or the cell. See also
Some years ago I got interested in work being done to clarify how the eye works. I created a webpage - Biophysics Approach to the Eye - where I collected some articles on this topic.
It seems to me that the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry is really (and ironically) for biophysics. Basically it is for an improved microscopic technique that allows for viewing viruses and even single molecules without destroying them. This allows for the collection of information about subcellular systems for the first time. See The Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Life in Sharp Focus, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Celebrating optical nanoscopy, 2014 chemistry Nobel Laureates broke barriers in light microscopy, and Nobel Prize For Chemistry 2014: Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell And William E. Moerner Honored For Development Of Super-Resolved Fluorescence Microscopy.
One of the most intriguing possible applications of quantum physics to explain a biological process involves photosynthesis, Physicists took an early interest in photosynthesis as evidenced by the letter to Nature History: Photosynthesis and the Nobel physicist.
In photosynthesis sunlight is captured and transported by highly specialised antenna proteins. Surprisingly these proteins act as quantum machines and use a quantum transport mechanism to efficiently guide the light and finally store the energy in their reaction centres. Researchers from ICFO -- the Institute of Photonic Science in Barcelona - have for the first time tracked this energy flow in individual proteins and discovered that the quantum coherences makes the light flow in the antenna protein immune to the ubiquitous external natural turmoil. Credit: ICFO
"Quantum coherence" may also play a role in other biological systems as discussed in Quantum biology: Do weird physics effects abound in nature? (January, 2013). Some specific examples (I don't think they're weird!) include Clearer Quantum Vision (January, 2014) and Light-gathering insects (November, 2012). There is really fascinating research into the possible quantum mechanical explanation of how birds use the Earth's magnetic field to figure out which direction to go when migrating. First have a look at Robust entanglement-based magnetic field sensor beyond the standard quantum limit (December, 2014). For details on bird migration and quantum effects see:
I have worked at a number of high-energy particle accelerators (also look at A primer on particle accelerators - July, 2016) and over the course of the years there has been found a number of unexpected applications for them. One set of examples is explored in a lecture I gave in the second year biophysics course on Biomedical Applications of Accelerators. Check out Five ways particle accelerators have changed the world (without a Higgs boson in sight) (February, 2016) and Ten things you might not know about particle accelerators (April, 2014) for a nice introduction to accelerators. Articles like Klystrons for industry (March, 2014), Primed: The smashing science behind particle accelerators (August, 2013) and Accelerating Particles Accelerates Science - With Big Benefits for Society (March, 2013) show that accelerator research feeds into more than just the biomedical industry. But even specifically for biomedical there is so-called proton therapy or "hadrotherapy". Further articles include Proton therapy enters precision phase (October, 2016), Accelerating the fight against cancer (October, 2014), Particle Beam Cancer Therapy: The Promise and Challenges (March, 2014) and Particle accelerators join fight against brain cancer (January, 2014), accelerator research is crucial. Even the engineers agreed that Particle therapy comes of age (December, 2010). For a bit of the history of hadrotherapy check out A lifetime in biophysics (August 26, 2014) which chronicles the life of Eleanor Blakely. Part of the problem for hadrotherapy applications is that accelerator facilities are just too big. But there have been advances in making compact accelerators which could be useful in medical applications. Recent articles include:
Before continuing on with this paragraph you may want to check out
Seven things you may not know
about X-rays (November, 2013). There is a lot of interesting biophysical
research happening at Synchrotron Light Sources like
the Canadian Light
Source, the PETRA III X-ray source, the
National Synchrotron Light Source II at Brookhaven National Laboratory
(see Brilliant new x-ray source is up and running at Brookhaven (January, 2015) and
Brookhaven ushers in a new bright era - April, 2015),
Swedish synchrotron promises to open up new avenues for researchers (August,
2015) and the
Linac Coherent Light Source
at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (see also
World's most powerful X-ray laser beam refined to scalpel precision, August, 2012
and New X-ray tool proves
timing is everything, February, 2013).
In May of 2009 a synchrotron in
China joined the fray. There are two May, 2011 articles on
synchrotron light sources; a
dedicated issue of Physics in Canada on the Canadian Light Source and
from Symmetry magazine. Some applications include
Particle accelerator reveals what the first birds looked like from the July, 2011 of
Faster 3-D Nanoimaging a Possibility With Full Color Synchrotron Light.
Also Synchrotron studies shed light on Alzheimer's disease and
SLAC X-rays help discover new drug against melanoma.
X-ray pulses on demand from electron storage rings (May, 2014) and
The Purest X-Ray Beam (September, 2011).
Mind you, you can make X-rays yourself just using
Scotch tape! See
Particle Accelerators for Dummies?
for a cute piece on how to survive working at a synchrotron.
There is now research (July, 2013) on
How to make zeptosecond X-ray pulses.
There are also advances being made on so-called "free-electron laser". See for example
A national x-ray free-electron laser facility for rapid, massive biomedical advance
(February, 2015) and
The first optically synchronised free-electron laser (January, 2015).
Bright light, big mirror: Precision X-ray focusing at NSLS-II (August, 2013)
For a January, 2010 review of Hadrontherapy check out Scientific and Technological Development of Hadrontherapy as well as Advancements in proton therapy cause for celebration (October, 2011). For some different angles on the use of accelerators have a look at the story Autos to accelerators about how some in old auto towns like Lansing Michigan are using the skills still in the town to make accelerators as well as Accelerator-treated bandages create healing environment and Accelerator-powered carbon dating (January, 2015). There are also efforts to create a desktop radiotherapy system (X-rays for cancer treatment) as discussed in Toward a compact microbeam radiotherapy system (July, 2012) as well as a new (May, 2015) development where Minibeams may minimize damage in cancer treatment And don't forget about neutron beams - Neutron beams reveal how two potential pieces of Parkinson's puzzle fit (January, 2015).
The shutdown of several nuclear reactors around the world in 2009 (including Canada's Chalk River facility) that were used predominantly to produce medical isotopes has been called The medical testing crisis (December, 2013) and has some worried that medical isotope shortages could become commonplace. This has lead physicists to consider other methods for medical isotope production which has led to some recent breakthroughs - Medical-isotope breakthrough made at Canadian lab (November, 2014). There is also an effort in the U.S. (2015) that appears to be making progress. Still there are worries - Medical isotope could run out, National Academies warn (September, 2016) - and advances - CERN to produce radioisotopes for health (September, 2016), Energetic protons boost BNL isotope production (September, 2016), and TRIUMF targets alpha therapy (September, 2016). The TRIUMF laboratory in Vancouver announced (June, 2013) Canadian Solution to Medical-Isotope Crisis Demonstrates that Cities Could Produce their own Medical Isotopes (for an overview of this effort see NRCan-Isotopes). The spring 2014 issue of TRIUMF Beamtime magazine entitled Welcome to Isotope Valley has a number of interesting articles on this. Also have a look at US university reactor to make molybdenum-99 (March, 2017), Cyclotrons make commercial quantities of technetium (February, 2012) and Four Labs Address Canada's Isotope Situation (January, 2011) or Cyclotrons could boost technetium supply (October 2011). The summer 2010 issue of Beamtime - the TRIUMF newsletter - is devoted to Nuclear Medicine at TRIUMF. The complete August, 2010 issue of Symmetry magazine is dedicated to the uses of accelerators including a story on TRIUMF's new wave of research on medical isotopes. Also have a look at An Accelerator-Based Temporary Solution to the Medical Isotope Shortage (from Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal), and New imaging tools from the LHC, and Team aims to produce medical isotopes without nuclear reactor. The US is now (February 2011) also moving into the game - Drive to end civilian use of HEU collides with medical isotope production. If you want to get into the game yourself then there is always The Do-it-Yourself Cyclotron. Good luck. There are efforts to make desktop sized cyclotrons for medical isotope production as discussed in Medical-isotope cyclotron designs go full circle (March, 2012). See also Terbium: a new "Swiss army knife" for nuclear medicine for other nuclear medicine advances.
One of the direct applications of high energy physics to medical diagnostics is Positron Emission Tomography (PET). One needs a cyclotron (like that at the TRIUMF laboratory in Vancouver) to create the beta emmiters. A chart of the PET facilities in Canada can be found here. As of October, 2011, physicists are looking to combine PET and MRI. Have a look at PET and MRI: providing the full picture. Finally, check out page 4 of the spring, 2012 issue Canadian report finds opportunity for PET in clinical care of cancer (July, 2012). There are also non-medical-imaging applications such as A dedicated high resolution PET imager for plant sciences (January, 2014).
This isn't relevant just for biophysics but there is a move afoot to update and redefine some of the fundamental units - see The new system of units (January, 2016). What may be particularly relevant for biophysics are Advances in thermometry. Apparently various primary thermometers, based on a wide range of different physics, have uncovered errors in the International Temperature Scale of 1990, and set the stage for rethinking the kelvin.
Here are some articles on biophysics (with an extremely biased selection criteria - namely, do I find them interesting or remotely relevant!) from the popular press to the scientific journals.
The following is a sampling
of "web-accessable" papers
e-print archive on
Biological Physics and
There is also the
[Be warned that these are NOT refereed papers (though some "replace" the original submission
the refereed journal version when it appears) so some of the conclusions reached here could be,
and probably are, utter nonsense.]