The Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences is fundamentally different from most graduate programs in the sciences.

Students define their own curriculum by selecting courses from amongst our traditional departments.  In this way, we offer a flexible but rigorous curriculum tailored to the students’ research aspirations.  Students further benefit by taking courses alongside traditional graduate students in both biological and physical sciences. A defining feature of the first year experience is an intense practical course in experimental science involving diverse topics ranging from Molecular Biology, to computational modelling, to programming real-time instrument control. Referred to as 'the Lab Course,' this course begins with an intense four week full-time Biological Research Immersion (BRI) that begins in August, a month before the start of Fall Quarter.

Standard First Year Curriculum:

BRI Fall Winter Spring

Lab (40+hr/week): Biological Research Immersion:
Synthesis & Engineering

Lab (20hr/week): Synthesis and Modification I:
Refinement & Molecular Analysis

Lab (20hr/week): Synthesis and Modification II: Systems & Simulations Rotations: Begin to confirm dual mentor choices with lab trials. Rotations continue through the summer, if necessary.

8/24 - 9/18 (in 2015)

Cell Biology (MGCB31600)

Biological Selective: Molecular Biology, Developmental Genetics, Cell Bio II, or Systems Biology

Properties of Biomolecules (BPHS3100): The physics of biopolymers


PSD Course from selected list.

PSD Course from selected list.

PSD Course from selected list.


Seminar-based discussion course

Seminar-based discussion course

Seminar-based discussion course or Biological Sciences Elective

Unlike other degrees at The University of Chicago, the Ph.D. in Biophysical Sciences is granted by both the Biological and Physical Science Faculties. Students are required to take courses in both biological and physical sciences. The requirements from the Biology-side include graduate courses such as Cell Biology, Biophysics, Computational Biology. Students rapidly learn the fundamental biophysics necessary to enter a laboratory and begin serious interdisciplinary research. Students choose graduate courses in the Physical Sciences to build upon their strengths and to be exposed to new areas.

.Selected Courses in the Physical Sciences:

Students are strongly encouraged to take Thermodynamics in the Fall and Statistical Mechanics in either the Winter or Spring, depending on which other electives are desired.

  Fall Winter Spring
Example 1

Chem 364 Chem. Thermo.

Chem 363 Stat/Mech

  • Chem 365 Chemical Dynamics
  • Chem 368: Advanced Computational Chemistry
  • Chem 311 Supramolecular Chemistry
  • Chem 325 Bio-organic chem
Example 2

Chem 364 Chem. Thermo.

  • Phys 322 Adv. Electrodynamics
  • Phys 367 Soft Condensed Matter

Phys 352 Stat/Mech

Students have some flexibility in designing a rigorous physical sciences series that appeals to their interests, with the approval of our program’s curriculum committee. While not required, we anticipate that many students will take additional electives in subsequent years to gain in-depth training in their specialized research area.

Interdisciplinary Practical Training

One of the features of the Program in Biophysical Sciences is the immersive laboratory course. This intensive laboratory course is managed by a full-time course director (Dr. Adam Hammond) who works closely with the students to help provide experimental and intellectual continuity. The laboratory course covers (1) sample preparation (e.g. engineering, expression, synthesis, and labeling of proteins and nucleic acid) and high throughput selection methods (phage display, in vitro selection); (2) measurement (spectroscopy and imaging including single molecule methods, NMR, x-ray diffraction, and mass spectrometry, etc.); and (3) computational approaches (extracting information from large data sets, bioinformatics, simulation and modeling). Although it is impossible to cover all biophysical methods, the process of mastering a subset of the important techniques gives students the confidence and foundation to build in any direction.

As a group, students also participate in two large projects during the year - building an advanced optical instrument from basic components, and writing a Computational Biology software package to address an original research question. Throughout this course, students are exposed to research and ideas emerging from faculty members’ labs.

Collaboration. Excellent interdisciplinary research can occur entirely within one laboratory or across departments and fields.  In each case, it is the ready exchange of ideas that drives ingenuity forward. We train our students to speak across disciplines and to be equally “fluent” in both biology and the physical sciences. The program in Biophysical Sciences is an inherently collaborative training program, and the foundation of collaboration is the ability to coherently express complex ideas. As part of the laboratory course, students will give frequent presentations, both oral and written: Analysis of recent papers, background preparation before research seminars, Overviews of upcoming experimental techniques, Experimental proposals, and Presentations of results.

Rotations.  Students complete a series of dual rotations to help them decide on pairs of advisors.  Our curriculum director works closely with students to help them identify and build relationships with their prospective advisors.  Students typically complete two or three rotations exposing them to four or six research groups.