What Is a Biophysicist?

Biophysics is the fusion of biology and physics. What has made life so complex? How does a nervous system work? How does the brain function? How do biological life forms adhere to the laws of physics? These are the questions that biophysicists investigate.

What Does a Biophysicist Do?

Like biologists, they study life in all its forms. However, their approach is different from most biologists. Their primary concern is the universal laws of physics - how the complexity of life fits with what we know about the world. They will look at life on the atomic level, study proteins and the nervous system of all living creatures, digestion and sexual reproduction - all as they pertain to the physical world; similarly, biochemists study cell development. The two disciplines complement each other. They attempt to work out how bodily functions and entire biological systems will work and look for patterns in the natural world. They have been key in promoting and reinforcing evolutionary theory as much as a process of physics as of biology. That means they look for the environmental impact on the process of evolution, and are highly involved in genetic research, medicine and the neurosciences.

Where Does a Biophysicist Work?

Biophysics is an experiment-heavy discipline, much more so than most other biology-based subjects. Therefore, they usually work in labs. They will nearly always work in teams - each biophysicist focusing on one small area of their subject. They will also work in conjunction with other biology professionals. The major employer of graduates with qualifications in biophysics (and biochemistry for that matter) is in pharmaceuticals. You can also expect a large number of openings in academia - particularly in applied research at university departments and in lecturing.

Outside of pharmaceuticals, you may wish to seek options with specific research organizations - government and private bodies - many of which will have specific requirements. There will be much take up in the charitable sector working for research and fund raising organizations, using donated money to conduct your research. This is usually in the medical industry alongside botanists, but is not the only choice and you will need to justify the expenses a lot more than conducted under the guidance of university funding.

As far as government roles are concerned, the FDA is a major employer. Biophysicists examine the impact of chemical compounds on living tissue and cells; similarly, the EPA will employ people with these qualifications to look at environmental impacts. You may also find High School teaching options available.

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What Is the Average Biophysicist Salary?

The applied research nature of this job makes it a very well paid career choice. The median salary is $94,270; the median hourly rate is $45.32. Salary ranges from $52,640 at the 10th percentile to $169,860 at the 90th percentile. The highest paying sector is wholesale trade at $115,260.*

What Is the Job Demand for Biophysicists?

It is estimated that the US has nearly 34,800 biochemists and biophysicists employed within its borders. Average job demand is expected to increase between 2020 and 2030 for biophysics and biochemistry by around 5%. Lab work into treatments for an aging (and healthier) population will see more demand for conditions that affect people in older age. Graduates will find more opportunities to work in research roles at smaller companies and in the charitable sector than larger pharmaceutical companies.*

Biophysics Jobs & Job Description

Using the study of physics to learn more about the biology of a plant, animal, fish or system is at the core of biophysics. A deeply interdisciplinary field, these scientists ask questions that require examination of the math and movement of biological processes. Jobs are as diverse as the world's organisms, and tasks may include:

  • Execute and perform testing as per scientific method and lab protocols
  • Follow the project or company operating procedures and control programs
  • Work in tandem with other biophysicists and technicians
  • Prioritize daily work tasks to maintain efficient work flow
  • Assure completion of scheduled tasks; meet established due dates
  • Implement knowledge/expertise to successfully execute biological production
  • Conduct independent process development experiments improve process, or quality
  • Analyze and interpret lab results
  • Explore innovative solutions to problems using scientific creativity
  • Participate in decision-making processes within the project team by actively engaging in scientific and technical discussions
  • Builds credibility within lab group by performing high quality work
  • Effectively communicate results of own work though scientific meetings, presentations, discussions and documentation and with clients
  • Report on and assist in failure investigations
  • Maintain equipment in good order
  • Perform calibrations and qualifications
  • Keep all records and notebooks in good order
  • Maintain clean and organized workbench area
  • Ensure any spills are immediately cleaned and materials are discarded and replaced according to lab procedures
  • Complete work orders and provide solutions for effective lab performance.
  • Prepare test solutions and ensure that they are standardized across sets
  • Resolve routine technical problems

Biophysicist managers are often in charge of human resources, team projects and lab assets and thus should have a minimum of 5 years of professional experience before trying for a promotion. Their tasks may include:

  • Document study protocols, reports, necessary forms and standard operating procedures
  • Track assigned work and its completion or non-completion status to inform lab timelines
  • Update scheduling and quality expectations according to lab results
  • Assign additional lab duties to those team members who are best suited, as tasks arise
  • Facilitate training sessions so that team members can fulfill testing requirements satisfactorily
  • Verify and validate methods and protocols
  • Follow the latest approved version of methods and standard operating procedures
  • Fully comply with OSHA and ethical practices
  • Make procedural and technical recommendations.
  • Have an aptitude for understanding technical information
  • Have a solid foundational knowledge of procedures and policies for lab assignments
  • Conduct trouble shooting and investigations to the point of presenting cause identification and solution to Department Manager and/or Scientific Leader.
  • Strategize to improve analytical techniques, documentation practices, and daily work duties.
  • Ensure that all technical and administrative documentation is complete and accurate to the fullest extent
  • Ensure that all results and records are entered into the electronic Laboratory Information System
  • Allow Quality Assurance personnel access to all avenues of information to ensure due diligence
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What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Biophysicist?

There are few bachelor degrees in biochemistry. Most who go on to study this area start with biology as an undergraduate degree but take math, physics and statistics as minors. The heavy data analysis nature of the role makes these subjects vital additions to your degree. Master's degrees are more common in biophysics. If you wish to study a master's in this subject, it's important to get lab experience and internships under your belt during your bachelor's where available. This will aid your application. Most lab jobs will be open to you with a master's. If you want run your own research projects eventually, a doctorate and extensive program of post-doc research will be vital.

Biophysics - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Biophysicists Have?

The following organizations are available for Biophysics professionals:

  • Biophysical Society: Representing a global community of 9,000 professionals, they disseminate knowledge of the discipline through regular publications, seminars and outreach
  • EBSA: European Biophysical Societies' Association is Europe's largest organization dedicated to the discipline. Their role is to create a network of information and facilitate sharing amongst the continent's professionals. They have a Congress every two years
  • BEMS: Bioelectromagnetics Society focuses on dissemination of data and promotion of research into one aspect of biophysics - the study of electromagnetic fields as they apply in biological life. Professionals in this area study (amongst other things) nervous system and electrical impulses that control movement

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for biochemists and biophysicists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.