Hi, my name is Michael Jarstfer and I am the new director of the Biophysical Society’s NIH-sponsored Summer Course, hosted at the beautiful University of North Carolina campus in the southern part of heaven. If you are considering this course, you might have some questions. Like, what is biophysics? What would I do if I joined the Summer Course in Biophysics at UNC? Why not deliver pizza this summer?
To answer the first question, consider physics and biology. Physics is the fundamental science focused on the study of matter, its motions through space/time, and the forces that control and are controlled by these motions. Biology is the natural science focused on understanding life. Biophysics is the marriage of these two disciplines. By bringing principles of the physical sciences to the study of life, biophysicists have solved several important problems, for example: the structure of DNA, the structure of the ribosome, development of techniques to study high resolution structures of biomolecules in solution, and development of techniques to follow protein biogenesis within a cell. These limited examples, each of which was recognized by the Nobel committees in Chemistry or Medicine, highlight critical contributions of biophysics.
The students in the BPS Summer Course engage in a truly unique experience that captures the essence of a graduate school education in biophysics. The course offers lectures covering diverse topics including thermodynamics and its role in the energetics of life, membrane structure and function, DNA packaging and replication, and protein machines. In each case the focus is on the big questions in the fields and how biophysical approaches can address the issues. In addition to this lecture type portion, students are provided a series of hands-on lab instructions in the techniques of biophysics. Students also join a laboratory on the UNC campus to conduct an independent research project. Often, the data students generate become part of a publication! To round things out, students are provided several professional development opportunities, including networking, resume production, interviewing for graduate school, poster presenting, and giving scientific talks.
Sounds like some work, but there is also some fun, including many planed social activities with faculty and students, and trips to the beach and to a Durham Bulls baseball game (the stadium used in the movie Bull Durham). Not only that, all costs are covered, and you get a stipend to cover your living expenses, too! So you don’t need to deliver pizza! At the end of the day, it is important to know if all of this work is worth it. The overwhelming majority of students that have completed the course have gone on to do exactly what they wanted after graduation, the majority are in biomedical/biophysical graduate programs throughout the USA, some are in medical school, and others are gainfully employed in the sciences. The success rate is remarkably high.
There are other intangible reasons to consider the course. UNC and Chapel Hill are beautiful places with great people. The atmosphere here is perfect for interdisciplinary research and the faculty are extremely excited to be working with the young, bright people that come through the BPS Summer Course. I hope you apply!