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  Biophysics is the application of the physical sciences to biology and living organisms. It is an interdisciplinary field which is largely a product of technical advances during the 20th century. However, the field has a historical basis with the general scientists of earlier times who felt free to apply their knowledge and intellect to the whole of science and beyond. Among early biophysical observations are the studies of the origin of bioluminescence in fireflies, of the electricity associated with electric eels and the connection between electricity and muscle contraction.

The age of technology has enabled great advances in the field of biophysics: techniques such as centrifugation, chromatography and electrophoresis have enabled the separation of biological molecules according to physical attributes. Central to modern biophysics are the analytical techniques which enable the 3-dimensional structure of molecules to be determined. William and Lawrence Bragg, a father and son team, developed X-ray crystallography at the beginning of the century; it was used in work on virus structure, haemoglobin structure and, in the 1950s, it led to the elucidation of the structure of DNA, the molecule basis of the gene. Currently the field is expanding rapidly as techniques based on genetics and immunology are developed and exploited, with the potential to bring momentous advances to many fields of biology, genetics and medicine. Despite, and perhaps because of, its technical nature, biophysics is a very intellectual field which has produced a great number of Nobel laureates during the 20th century. RB

See also biochemistry; molecular biology.Further reading James Watson, The Double Helix.



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