Biologically inspired physics is an extraordinarily wide field, covering the behaviour of systems from single-molecule machines to organisms, ecosystems and evolution. We use the tools of physics to address biological problems and we use biology to create new tools of physics. Our work at the interface between disciplines impacts medicine and healthcare as well as the biological and physical sciences and industry.
Most of our experimental biophysics research will soon move to the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Research in a state-of-the-art new building dedicated to high-risk, high-reward research ‘to catalyse discovery by bringing the physical sciences into the cell’. The institute provides shared infrastructure and brings together collaborating groups from across physical and life sciences in Oxford.
Biomolecular motors and machines
Rotary molecular motors are essential agents of movement and energy transduction in living organisms and our biophysics of molecular motors group, led by Richard Berry, focuses in particular on the bacterial flagellar motor and F1FO ATP synthase. The group uses novel forms of light microscopy to understand how these complex machines work and how they are built, maintained and controlled in living cells.
Gene expression is the vital path that converts DNA information into functional proteins. Our gene machines group is led by Achillefs Kapanidis and studies mechanisms and machines of gene expression using single-molecule biophysical methods and biochemistry. The group also develops single-molecule fluorescence methods, instruments, assays and DNA-based biosensors.
We study the assembly of synthetic biomolecular nanostructures, built largely from DNA and RNA, and in particular biomimetic molecular machinery. The self-assembled structures and devices group, led by Andrew Turberfield, aims to create disruptive technologies for the physical sciences and manufacture as well as probes of cellular structure and function to underpin advances in 21st-century medicine.
Our work with ion channels is led by Stephen Tucker and focuses on the intimate relationship between ion channel structure and function at an atomic level and the role of ion channels in health and disease. The ion channels group works primarily with K2P potassium channels and uses a range of computational, biophysical and electrophysical approaches to study their properties.
Sonia Contera leads a biomechanics and scanning probe group investigating how mechanical properties of cells and tissues are coupled to chemistry and electricity to create biological function. The group uses atomic force microscopy to measure structures and mechanical properties with nanometre accuracy in living systems and works at the interface of physics, biology and nanotechnology.
Statistical physics and simulation of biological systems
Work in statistical biophysics, led by Ard Louis, applies theoretical and computational tools from statistical mechanics to study the emergence of complex behaviour from the interaction of many individual objects. The statistical biophysics group focuses on the physics of evolution and of self-assembly, including coarse-grained simulation of nucleic acid interactions and nanostructures, algorithmic information theory and deep learning.
Julia Yeomans leads a theory of soft and active matter group that addresses a variety of problems in soft matter and biological physics using theoretical and computational tools from statistical mechanics and hydrodynamics. They are particularly interested in the dynamics of soft-matter, motility at low Reynolds number, the interactions of fluids with structured surfaces, and active systems including dense suspensions of swimming bacteria and the mechanobiology of tissues.