Biophysical Society Creates Roadmap into the Future

Tamm, Lukas--15Biophysics as a discipline has experienced incredible growth in the last 15 years, which is reflected in the growth of the Biophysical Society membership and Annual Meeting.  With that growth, an increasing number of disciplines now use biophysical approaches to conduct their research, and elements of biophysics can be found in nearly every aspect of contemporary life sciences.

But biophysics as a field is still not well understood by those who do not identify themselves as biophysicists.  It is at this juncture that the Society Council undertook a year-long strategic planning effort to ensure that the Society’s activities, programs, and direction continue to best promote the field as a cohesive, unique discipline, and that the Society continues to provide a home and support network for the breadth of current and future biophysicists to showcase their research and the advancement of the field.

The Process

Council hired an outside facilitator to guide the strategic planning process, Marsha Rhea of Signaturei.  Her organization conducted an internal scan through member surveys and interviews, as well as an environmental scan of factors affecting the field and the researchers conducting biophysical research.  Armed with this wealth of data and information, Council and other Society members participated in a two-day retreat to draft the Society’s first ever strategic plan, then spent considerable additional time revising the draft, ultimately approving it at their fall meeting on October 28, 2017.

In the end, the new vision positions the Society to take full advantage of the interdisciplinary edge biophysics has as a unifying discipline with powerful quantitative methods that others need and that lead to significant new biological discoveries. The goals included in the plan affirm that the Society will work globally to enhance knowledge exchange, advocate for the value of biophysics, and support an increasingly diverse next generation of scientists.

In its deliberations, Council identified biophysics as a dynamic and evolving discipline within an increasingly interdisciplinary science landscape and determined that the term biophysics does not necessarily need a clear and coherent definition. The Society can exploit the strengths of this ambiguity as an advantage with biophysics seen as open to emerging fields of science and a discipline that continues to evolve and define quantitative biology.

Strategically Councilors agreed that it may be better to answer what biophysics is by describing its purpose and scope rather than defining its boundaries. The Society may also find this identity question can be an energizing and exciting discussion to continue when members gather. Councilors talked about how biophysicists are heroes of their own stories of scientific endeavor. Leaders of the field agree that biophysics and its quantitative methods are key to unlocking fundamental answers in the life sciences. Continuing to focus this identity conversation on what biophysics is doing rather than what it is may generate more opportunities for the Society to grow and thrive in the future.

The Outcome  


Biophysics is identified and recognized as the interdisciplinary scientific discipline that develops the quantitative methods and techniques needed by scientists as they seek fundamental understanding of the biological, chemical, and physical mechanisms of life and work to unlock answers essential to curing disease, solving biological problems, and discovering basic scientific insights.


The Biophysical Society convenes and connects a global community of scientists working at the interface of the physical and life sciences and creates, shares, and advocates for biophysical knowledge and methods through programs and communities that support biophysicists.


  • Scientific excellence
  • Integrity and transparency
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Community building

Goals and Objectives

Sharing Knowledge in and about Biophysics.  The Biophysical Society is the organization where one can find the whole breadth of research that is biophysics, and not just one small part.  While researchers can attend other meetings that have a biophysics track, or join societies that have a biophysics component, nowhere other than the Biophysical Society can they experience the diversity of what biophysics is and what biophysicists do around the world. The Biophysical Society’s meetings, publications, programs, and website will all work together to strengthen the identity of biophysics as a distinct and integrative discipline that underpins a quantitative understanding of biological processes. Together they will provide forums, resources, and opportunities for researchers to access biophysics-related research and information.

Fostering a Global Community. Biophysics bridges multiple scientific disciplines and does so around the world. The Biophysical Society is an international organization. Although headquartered in the United States, more than one third of its membership is working outside the United States and this international fraction is growing.  The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of biophysics has allowed this growth to happen organically, but as a Society we pledge to do more to ensure that all members and prospective members feel more connected and that those members, particularly student and early career members who may not be able to travel to attend the Annual Meeting, can access all available resources and feel a part of the Society. To cater to its international membership, the Society organizes meetings in international locations around the globe. The Society will work to support biophysicists throughout the world at all career levels and foster collaborative efforts with national biophysics societies to strengthen the identity of biophysics.

Supporting the Next Generation. The future strength of biophysics and of the Society depends on the next generation.  It’s that simple.  We know that we have strong programs and services for our young members, but we also know that technology, job markets, and economies change, and we are committed to change with them to ensure that the next generation thrives. The Society will continuously improve the mechanisms to engage, support, and retain the next generation of biophysicists.

Advocating for Biophysics. Who better to be ambassadors for biophysics than biophysicists?  How many people know and understand what you as a biophysicist do?  As biophysicists, we all need to step up and make our science more accessible, understandable, and relatable to everyone’s lives.  The Biophysical Society will develop programs to help members communicate the value and importance of biophysics to lawmakers, funding bodies, and the public at large. While scientific organizations have learned that working together to advocate for science funding works and is crucial, we are the only global organization that can speak specifically and comprehensively for biophysics.  We will work to engage more members to participate in that effort.

We Are a Member Organization

To all of you who participated in the survey and interviews that led to this plan, a heartfelt thank you.  As part of our effort to respond to member needs, we have sent a separate survey asking for input on specific programs, and we encourage all of you to participate and help make the Biophysical Society even better.

One of the reasons for the Society’s growth and success is that it has always been a democratic, bottoms-up organization. That feedback came through in the surveys and interviews. Nearly every successful program the Society currently sponsors originated from a member suggestion.

Please help us continue that culture by participating and making your voice heard. As we develop programs that you ask for, tell us if and how they are meeting your needs or how they can be improved.

We are excited to march together and promote biophysics as a unified, yet constantly evolving field far into the future. We are also thrilled to accompany and support all scientists who identify as biophysicists – young and old and around the globe – throughout their careers for decades to come.

–Lukas Tamm, BPS President



American Education Week

American Education Week (1)

November 13-17 is American Education Week, highlighting the importance of K-12 education. We asked Biophysical Society Education Committee members to tell us about teachers who made an impact on them.

stoked01-hero“In high school there was a fierce science teacher named Mr. Housek. I was unimpressed with the butterflies that my fellow students were collecting in Biology and, against all advice, took his Electronics class instead, where I learned to use a slide rule and to build circuits. Somehow, we got along and his Physics class provoked my curiosity in understanding how things worked. Little did I know how very complicated it was going to be to apply this understanding to biology.”

– David Stokes, New York University


“I had a remarkable science teacher, Mr. Griffith, at Wy’east High School, a small high downloadschool in rural Oregon – he was known for his pointed and sarcastic remarks, as well as his ability to teach science. He taught me Chemistry, Physics and Semi-Micro Quantitative Analysis, and oversaw my senior research project, which won a semi-finalist place in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He also graciously disposed of the batch of chemicals that I once mixed and realized after making it, that it might not be entirely safe. He taught science to many students, including a colleague at UNC Chapel Hill, Richard Cheney, who grew up in a small town up the road from my parents. Sadly, Mr. Griffith is no longer with us.”

– Sharyn Endow, Duke University


Me in Office“The biggest impact on me was not from any one teacher but from a family of teachers at St. Stephen’s Elementary School in Milwaukee.  They watched over me and my brother during difficult times in a turbulent family.  My debt to them is immeasurable.”

– Alex Small, Cal Poly Pomona



“I would like to honor Mrs. Mader from Quarton Elementary School in Birmingham, MI. She taught us about self-esteem and confidence. She told me that you could go a long way in life if you believed in yourself, and she was right!”

-Ashley Carter, Amherst College



“I did have a 9th grade math teacher who I have always remembered.  He recognized that I had some talent and let me work on my own in the back of the room during class.  I was a bit introverted at that time, and working on my own at my own pace really motivated me.”

-Allen Price, Emmanuel College


Linda Columbus Investigates Cell Membranes With Large New Grants

“Many teachers come to mind when asked about K-12 teachers that made an impact on me. I couldn’t read when I started first grade and my teacher took the time and effort to get me up to speed and performing well by the end of the year. I am confident without her attention to the way I learn and realizing it wasn’t for the lack of ability that I would not be a scientist. Another was my seventh grade science teacher that had very visual exams, which stimulated me. We were learning anatomy and doing dissections so on the day of the exam there were about 25 dissected animals or products from our labs that were tagged with numbers and we had to go around the classroom to identify or answer specific questions about the visual product. This was so aligned with my learning style and curiosity that I loved the exams. My third grade teacher let us self-pace in math if we wanted. So we could just keep going in the math book and several of us chose to do math instead of free time some days. Fourth grade was a shocker when we weren’t allowed to do that anymore. Another was a teacher in high school that I had for two classes, Calculus and Computing. She just got how I learned and most lessons were open ended or if we finished we were asked to help others in the class. Looking back, it seems the teachers that were inclusive of different learning styles and instruction were the ones I remember.”

– Linda Columbus, University of Virginia



Get to Know: Joanna Swain, BPS Council Member

We recently spoke to Biophysical Society council member Joanna Swain, Bristol-Myers Squibb, about her research, meeting her heroes, and what she loves about living in New England.

Joanna Swain_pictureWhat is your current position & area of research?

I am currently a Senior Principal Scientist in Molecular Discovery Technologies at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where I work to discover transformative medicines for patients whose medical needs are not being met by currently available treatments. My team uses in vitro selections to discover cyclic non-natural peptides that bind to pharmacologically important targets with high specificity, but that are small enough to hold the promise for intracellular delivery and oral bioavailability.

What drew you to a career as a biophysicist?

I was initially drawn to the field of structural biology by the idea of seeing the unseeable, with NMR as my first tool to illuminate protein structure and dynamics. I was captivated by the theoretical models of protein allostery, and wanted to understand allostery at a mechanistic level – how are protein structure & dynamics impacted by ligand binding, and how can information about binding site occupancy be transmitted to distal sites? It has been immensely rewarding to channel my interest in modulating protein activity toward drug discovery in an industry setting.

What do you find unique or special about BPS? What have you enjoyed about serving on Council?

In my early career, BPS was the meeting for finding other people who shared my interests and for learning about new technologies and applications that could be relevant to my own research. Since joining Council, I have been particularly impressed by the commitment of the Society to maintaining diversity at the podium in all of its meetings. Serving on Council has also given me the opportunity to meet many academic peers that I would not otherwise have gotten to know. I have to admit to being a little starstruck in a recent Council meeting sharing breakfast with my heroes Angela Gronenborn and Jane Dyson!


Swain modeling her mother’s 1970s era ski gear. “It’s still going strong! Wooden waxless skis with real mohair strips, and leather boots with no insulation whatsoever! Perfect for New England winters,” she jokes.

Who do you admire and why?

I admire women like Margaret Oakley Dayhoff, who pushed their way past boundaries and first claimed access to male-dominated scientific fields, allowing me to follow my interests and gather opportunities that were never so easily offered to them. I admire local and global citizens, faith leaders, and activists, who build me up with messages of hope for a more just world, and give me both strength and mechanisms to help make it happen.

What do you like to do, aside from science?

Raising a family alongside an active career has not left much time for other pursuits, but now that my children have grown to teenagers, I look forward to a future that involves a whole lot more bicycling and travel, hopefully at the same time!

What is your favorite thing about living in New England?

I love the change of the seasons, and long cold snowy winters. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

What is something BPS members would be surprised to learn about you?

Sometimes the news on NPR’s Morning Edition becomes too much for me on my drive to work, so I start the day with Red Hot Chili Peppers or Ani DiFranco at volume 11 instead.  With enthusiastic tuneless singing.

Do you have a non-science-related recommendation you’d like to share?

This might be a better answer for the last question, but my guilty pleasure is the TV show “Shameless.” I think William H. Macy’s portrayal of deadbeat dad/addict Frank Gallagher is just brilliant. Again, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.


Get to Know: Bert Tanner, BPS Early Careers Committee Chair

We recently spoke with BPS Early Careers Committee Chair Bert Tanner, Washington State University, about his research, his time on the committee, and the years he spent as a gymnast.

tanner-bertWhat is your current position & area of research?

Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, Washington State University

I study muscle biology and teach physiology to undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students. Research studies within my laboratory focus on normal, mutated, and diseased proteins that influence muscle contraction. We often integrate mathematical modeling, computational simulations, biochemical assays, and biophysical system-analysis to investigate complex network behavior among muscle proteins. We use these findings to describe and illustrate molecular mechanisms of contraction that underlie muscle function at the cellular and tissue levels.

What drew you to a career as a biophysicist?

I studied Physics as an undergraduate student at University of Utah. The last couple years of my undergraduate studies I got the opportunity to further explore bioengineering and computer science, and I participated in a summer research experiences learning about computational biology, remote sensing, and environmental biophysics. Through these experiences, I became increasingly interested at using mathematics, physics, and computation to better understand and describe biological processes. Through a series of injuries, I started learning more about physiology and became increasingly curious about different applications where mathematical modeling could help illustrate complicated, dynamic processes at the molecular, cellular, and organismal levels.  This led me back to graduate school, where I ultimately began studying muscle biophysics.

What do you find unique or special about BPS? What have you enjoyed about serving on the Early Careers Committee?

I love the rigor, diversity, and plasticity of the Biophysical Society, as well as the annual Biophysical Society meeting.  I’ve been attending and presenting at the national meeting since 2004, and I am really impressed by the high-quality science and constructive engagement of many society members—many of whom have become great friends and colleagues over the years. I also really appreciate the strong commitment to training young scientists in a rigorous, difficult field that is demonstrated by the BPS and its engaged membership. I enjoy being a member of the Early Careers Committee because it is a platform that enables education and programming for early career biophysicists via the newsletters, society webpage and blog posts, and annual meeting events.  These early career biophysicists are among the best and the brightest minds in the world, and our committee feels it is critical to help them learn about the myriad career paths where their skills will make an impact: academia, industry, small business, national laboratories, science writing and education, public policy, etc.

Who do you admire and why?

I admire many people from many different walks of life, but I often think most of the people that have impacted my education in a positive way. This includes a handful of teachers from elementary, middle school, and high school, all of whom made a really big impact on my thinking and career choices. Just like the impact these teachers made on me, other teachers work tirelessly to educate students each day; the well-being of our society greatly benefits from their efforts.  A second tier of people that I really admire are the approachable, engaging, unselfish, and constructively-critical mentors or colleagues that I get to interact with each year.  These people inspire me to try and do my best each day, and to treat people kindly.


What do you like to do, aside from science?

I love the outdoors and to exercise. When I can pair these two up, it is even better.  My favorite hobby is skiing, just being out in the snow and gliding down the mountain, trail, or path is fantastic.  The past few years I’ve spent all my spare skiing-time on the ‘magic carpet’ teaching my son how to ski.  He is 5 now, and getting pretty good at the ‘blue squares’.  On our last ski day in Spring of 2016, my daughter (then about 18 months old) even skied by herself for about 60-100 feet.  She loves skiing and spent most of her first couple seasons skiing in a backpack on my back. I cannot wait to watch her keeping up with her big brother soon.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington?

The diversity of the outdoor activities.  My family and I get to live in a small town and I get to work at a Pac-12 university with wonderful colleagues and great resources to pursue my research.  However, we are only 30 minutes to 2.5 hours away from world-class white water rivers, camping, hiking, backpacking, and pretty good skiing.  This accessibility to nature, and the diversity of options is really special to me and my family.

What is something BPS members would be surprised to learn about you?

I was a gymnast until age 18.  I loved it, but it took a lot of time and I decided not to pursue it as a collegiate athlete.  However, it was pretty fun watching some of the fellow gymnasts that I’d trained with, and competed against as I grew up, perform in the Olympics over the past 15-16 years.

Do you have a non-science-related recommendation you’d like to share (book, movie, TV show, etc.)?

The recent Zootopia movie has a classic and wonderfully painful scene with sloths running the DMV.  For a quick laugh (2-3 min segment) you should check it out on YouTube.


Get to Know: Paul Axelsen, BPS Treasurer

We recently spoke with Biophysical Society Treasurer Paul Axelsen, University of Pennsylvania, about who he admires, why he appreciates serving as treasurer, and what he loves about being a pilot.

Axelsen, Paul - PHOTOWhat is your current position & area of research?

I am in the Department of Pharmacology at Penn with secondary appointments in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and in the Department of Medicine.

Everyone in the lab, in some way, studies the problem of amyloidogenesis in Alzheimer’s disease, which we suspect may result from protein-lipid interactions rendered pathological by oxidative stress.

What drew you to a career as a biophysicist?

The enthusiasm of my pre-doctoral and postdoctoral mentors for the field!  Before I was in any position to judge for myself, they held up the Biophysical Society, its Journal, and its Annual Meeting as a model for how science should be done at the highest levels.

What do you find unique or special about BPS?  What have you enjoyed about serving as treasurer?

Without question, the answer to both questions is: the people involved in leadership.  Becoming involved in BPS committees and Council greatly expanded the number of people I knew outside my field, and broadened my perspective on science.

Who do you admire and why?

That generation of scientists – now largely gone – who stayed “hands-on” in the lab throughout their careers, who made their own reagents and instruments, and who can be credited with creating the modern popular expectation that basic science can solve practical problems.



The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina is visible on a hill behind the airstrip where the Wright brothers first flew. 112 years later, Paul made it there in about 2 hours from Philadelphia.


I hear you are a pilot. What made you want to fly? What do you love about it?

Powered flight is one of the greatest human inventions of the past few hundred years, and many aspects of flight just cannot be experienced by watching videos or even IMAX films.  It is also an outstanding example of how government, private enterprise, and individuals can organize to create an extraordinarily safe transportation system.  As with the BPS, it is an extraordinary privilege to be a part of such an organization.

What is something BPS members would be surprised to learn about you?

I vaguely recall having worked as a professional musician throughout most of the ‘70s.


Get to Know: Frances Separovic, BPS Secretary

We recently spoke with Biophysical Society Secretary Frances Separovic, University of Melbourne, Australia, about why she loves biophysics, what makes Australia unique, and her surprising life goal.

frances-headshotWhat is your current position & area of research?

I am professor and Head of the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne. My primary research area is membrane biophysics and biological solid-state NMR spectroscopy. Our lab studies how peptides and toxins get into cell membranes.

What drew you to a career as a biophysicist?

Working out how things work, and being able to do this at an atomistic level is thrilling.

What do you find unique or special about BPS? Why are you excited to serve as secretary?

The diversity of fields covered by our members and the pervasive enthusiasm for discovery. As secretary, I hope to raise awareness of how biophysics underlies our understanding of biological systems and welcome the opportunity to help bring together the global biophysics community.

Who do you admire  and why?

Richard Feynman, Marie Curie and Nelson Mandela come to mind – their passion, persistence and pursuit to resolve often conflicted principles.

What do you like to do, aside from science?

Travel – although it is usually associated with science. I enjoy reading novels, movies, plays, exhibitions and stand-up comedy.

What makes you most proud about living in Australia?

Its natural beauty, lifestyle, and multiculturalism. I immigrated to Australia as a child and was fortunate to grow up learning from different cultures.

What do you want scientists to know about biophysics/science research in Australia?

The Australian Society for Biophysics will celebrate its 40th Anniversary this year. Although small on a world scale, we kick above our weight and, although on the other side of the globe, we are well connected. We’re also proud of the Braggs who, a hundred years ago, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for X-ray crystallography.


The Nullarbor Plain, spanning the border between South Australia and Western Australia

What is something BPS members would be surprised to learn about you?

I love to drive long distances while listening to loud music – my ambition is to drive a road train [a truck pulling multiple trailers] across the Nullarbor.


Egelman’s Culinary Lab: Grilled Chicken Thighs

If you read the profile of BPS President Edward Egelman in the BPS Newsletter earlier this year, you know that in his spare time, he is an avid cook.  We have asked him to share a recipe with readers here.  In keeping with the end of summer in the US, Egelman has chosen to share a grilled dish.

Grill-clipartAfter being asked to contribute a recipe to this blog, I realized how hard it is to choose one particular dish when I am constantly experimenting with food (at home, that is, and not in the lab!). My son, a computer scientist at Berkeley, introduced me to xanthum gum, which is now a staple in modernist cuisine (or molecular gastronomy). It turns out that this polysaccharide has been mainly used in industrial applications, such as thickening mud for oil drilling, and the total production of it exceeds 30,000 tons a year. It gets its name from the bacterium that produces it, Xanthomonas campestris, which uses it for adhesion to plant cells. Since this is the Biophysical Society (and not a cooking blog) I can add that this hydrocolloid is built from pentasaccharides, with a typical molecule having ~ 7,000 pentamers. It is tasteless, and has amazing thickening properties, leading to sauces with a texture that cannot be achieved with other thickeners, such as flour or corn starch. I might also add that biopolymers of all sorts will be the focus of the Thematic Meeting that we are holding in Rio de Janeiro at the end of October, “Polymers and Self-Assembly: From Biology to Nanomaterials.”

The other night I grilled six boneless chicken thighs, tossed with fresh rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil. While they were grilling I sautéed a whole diced onion in olive oil. I then added 200 ml of chicken stock (I typically make ~ 30 liters of this at a time, so it is always available in my freezer). This was seasoned with salt and pepper and reduced over very high heat to perhaps half the original volume. I then added ~ 30 ml of cream (two tablespoons), about the same quantity of a good Dijon mustard, and a small pinch of xanthum gum (perhaps 150 mg, but who has a precision balance in the kitchen?). I pureed this with an immersion blender, necessary to fully dissolve the xanthum gum. If you do not have an immersion blender a regular blender would be fine.  The chicken thighs and the sauce were kept warm while I finished the kale. I had previously blanched in boiling salted water perhaps two liters of fresh kale leaves. These were only boiled for about a minute, and then rinsed in very cold water until cool. They were then squeezed quite thoroughly in a colander to remove all water. To finish, the kale was sautéed in olive oil to which some chopped garlic and jalapeños had been added.

The presentation was simple: spread the kale leaves on a warmed plate, place one or two (depending upon the size of the thighs, the number of other courses, and the appetite of the recipient) chicken thighs on top, and then pour the sauce over the chicken. A sprig of fresh rosemary on top of the thigh is all this now needs. Bon appétit!

-Edward Egelman