Biophysics Week: An Opportunity for Public Outreach

Meenakshi Prabhune planned an affiliate event for Biophysics Week 2017; she reflects on that experience here.   

Biophysicists are encouraged to get involved an organize an event for Biophysics Week 2018, March 12-18.  Learn more on the Biophysics Week website.


You can take a biophysicist out of the lab, but you cannot take biophysics out of their mind. This realization dawned on me when I celebrated ‘Biophysics week’ on my blog last year. When I first came across the Biophysical Society (BPS) call for affiliate events, I wasn’t sure how I could help. It had been more than a year since I completed my PhD in biophysics from the University of Goettingen in Germany, and around 2 years since I last stepped in the lab. Yet, I felt compelled to contribute in some way to change the perception of this field among non-scientists.

The most common reaction of any non-scientist to “I work in biophysics” has been, “Wow, that sounds fancy”. More often than not, the conversation ended there. I don’t blame them. The vast amount of research that goes in laboratories all over the world involves a great investment of interdisciplinary topics. So, scientists have rightfully come up with legitimate interdisciplinary titles such as nanobiotechnologist, synthetic biologist, biophysicist, etc. The issue, however, is that the specifics of these fields remain confined within the lab or within a small inner circle of groups working on similar topics. Eventually, to the general public, they are all clubbed together under the ‘sounds fancy’ category.

Whenever I have these brief interactions with the general public, realizing that they were curious but intimidated by the field, I felt guilty for not informing more. Shouldn’t scientists be responsible for communicating their research to the public? After all, when we demand funding for science from the government, the taxpayers should know what exactly that ‘science’ is. Perhaps the right kind of explanation would help inform the utility of these fields beyond their fancy title.

Inspired by the mission of outreach, I chose to inform the public about biophysics via the medium of writing. I chose two representative topics for my blog. The first one was about nacre, which is the inner hard layer of mollusc shells, interesting in material sciences for its fracture resistance. This was the very project in my biophysics journey, wherein I investigated the role of one of the proteins involved in nacre biomineralization in its structural integrity. The second topic was unrelated to any of my own work topics, but more of general interest. Everyone has seen geckos defy gravity while running up a wall, but how do they achieve this feat? This topic beautifully captures the essence of biophysics; a perfect example of how a biological question can be answered using a quantitative physical approach.

In a way, participating in BPS ‘Biophysics Week’ was my way of giving back to the scientific community. I have learnt a lot from this field and loved its interdisciplinary aspect of balancing between diving into details as a biologist and generalizing to identify unified principles as a physicist. I believe that arousing public curiosity and interest regarding biophysics is the very least that I, or any of us, can do to increase its popularity beyond the lab.

Meenakshi is a researcher-turned-science writer, passionate about the dissemination of science. Check out her blog and portfolio for more articles.


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



Become a BPS Student Leader: Set Up One of the Inaugural Biophysical Society Student Chapters

Student Chapters blog

The Biophysical Society is excited to launch the BPS Student Chapter program this fall, with the first Chapters to be recognized starting in the Spring semester. This program aims to build active student chapters around the globe, increase student membership and participation within the Society, and promote biophysics as a discipline across college campuses through activities organized by the chapters. Students who become officers or participate in the chapters will have an opportunity to take an active leadership role within their institutions and the Biophysical Society, with special opportunities to participate in activities at future Society meetings.

Chapters may be formed within a single institution, or regional chapters may be developed among multiple, neighboring institutions. Recognized chapters will be reimbursed up to $200 by the Society to assist with getting started.

Chapters wishing to be recognized starting in the spring semester of 2018 must submit the Endorsement and Petition Form, Chapter Bylaws, and the Chapter Information Sheet to the Society Office via email to by November 1, 2017, for consideration. Applicants will be notified in mid-December regarding the status of their recognition.

For more information and a complete list of instructions on forming an official BPS Student Chapter visit


Opportunity to Engage: Biophysics Week 2017


You are scientist. It is your job to be an expert in what you study, to know and understand the tiniest details of your subject matter. You work with others in your field, and teach/mentor students and postdocs with some background related to your work.  You publish your work in specialized publications so that scientists with similar backgrounds and knowledge of your specialized vocabulary understand what you do. But when was the last time you explained your work to someone outside of your very specific field?  Or talked about biophysics and all it encompasses in general?

The second annual Biophysics Week, March 6-10, 2017, is an opportunity to do just that. The Biophysical Society will be hosting a series of events, including webinars on topics ranging from mentoring to getting a biophysics paper published,  and a Congressional briefing.  Lesson plans and profiles of women in biophysics will be released.  Cell Press will create a picture show, illustrating the beauty unveiled by biophysics research.

But to really reach people, the Society needs you to get involved.

We encourage you to plan an educational outreach event , such as a seminar, webinar, information session, lab tour, open house, or other activity that allows you to share what you and your colleagues do with others. The Biophysical Society will advertise your event on its website, in member communications, and through  social media.

And you will have taken your science out of the lab and engaged.  Maybe the effort will result in a student deciding to take a biophysics class, or find a biophysics lab to work in.  Maybe it will introduce a high school student to the term biophysics and teach him to not be intimidated by it. Or maybe your efforts will result in a non scientist developing an appreciation of basic research.  All are important outcomes.  And they will only happen when we all  engage.

Plan your event and register it here.

Stay up-to-date on Biophysics Week 2017 here.



Neurons, Brains, and Biophysics at the U.S.’s largest science fair

15,500 pipe cleaners.

160 showings of The Human Brain:  Images to Atoms

6000 individuals at the BPS exhibit booth.


BPS Council member Bob Nakamoto, University of Virginia, helps elementary school students with their neuron models.

In a nutshell, these numbers wrap of the Biophysical Society’s participation in the 4th Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, DC, April 15-17, 2016.

In three short days, Biophysical staff and member volunteers gave over 6000 individuals a glimpse of the power and beauty of biophysics research through a short planetarium style movie showcasing images of neurons and proteins in the brain, as well as a hands on activity– making neuron models out of pipe cleaners.  Pretty amazing numbers considering the Society’s booth was one of over 1000 exhibitors at the Festival.

With a booth at the entrance of one of the exhibit floors (Yes, there was more than one at the festival!), the Biophysical Society’s exhibit was bumping throughout the entire event.  On Friday, school groups made up the majority of attendees, while on the weekend, the attendees were primarily families.  An estimated 345,000 people attended the free event, and it was very heartening to see the interest in science from the diverse crowd.

The Society would like to thank its member volunteers for showing up, being amazing educators, and sharing their passion for science with the next generation.  The Society would  also like to thank its partners in bringing the Dome to the event:  Wah Chiu and Matt Doherty, from Baylor College of Medicine, and the Houston Museum of Science for the use of their equipment.

Want to make a neuron model out of pipe cleaners at home or at a local outreach event?  Here are the instructions on How To Make a Neuron Model.




Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: A Novel Internship for the Science-Addicted

My name is Manuel Castro, I am a rising senior at Arizona State University, and my major is Biochemistry with a focus in medicinal chemistry. From a relatively young age, I knew that my love of science was considerably broad. I enjoy the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics; through undergraduate lab reseCastro,Manuel headshotarch opportunities, I became more familiar with the interdisciplinary concept of biophysics, and subsequently, the breadth and depth associated with this area of study. When my lab mentor told me about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program, I enthusiastically applied.

At Arizona State, I work in an NMR lab that focuses on characterizing the structure and function of membrane proteins. Under Dr. Wade Van Horn, my work in his lab has helped direct me towards achieving a career within the large realm of biophysics; namely, structural biology. Upon receiving my acceptance letter to the BPS Summer Program, I began looking into various professors at UNC Chapel Hill that complemented my interests. I quickly found Dr. Matt Redinbo, a professor whose lab also focuses in the structural and chemical biology of proteins involved in human disease, but with X-ray diffraction instead.

Coming from an NMR lab, I entered Dr. Redinbo’s crystallography lab with the intention of exploring the structural biology spectrum more broadly. I really wanted to learn X-ray crystallography first hand to help me decide this coming year where to focus my applications for graduate school programs. I expected my work in Dr. Redinbo’s lab would be very general, including making buffers, cleaning dishes, etc. To my pleasant surprise, the same day I met Dr. Redinbo in person, he already had me setting up crystal trays. Within a few more weeks into the BPS course, I was shadowing graduate students using the x-ray source, which I consider my favorite part of the summer course thus far. In addition to the research, I have learned a lot about scientific communication. We give presentations which help train us for graduate-level coursework by having us present on what their research is about and the direction it is headed.

The program also offers classes that introduce important topics of physical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. For those who have taken those classes, the course serves as a wonderful review; for those that have not, it is a fantastic introduction to central themes of biophysical studies. These are formal courses with important feedback such graded assignments and quizzes; however, the courses are not for credit. This promotes a comfortable learning environment for students of all levels of education and disciplines.

Overall, I think that this summer has been one of the best of my life so far. The BPS Summer Program allowed me to travel across the country and make new friends from various fields and interests. I would strongly suggest this internship to anyone who is passionate about science, and I have no regrets when I reflect upon my stay at UNC Chapel Hill.


Summertime Science: Biophysical Course in Chapel Hill Is Underway

2015 Biophysical Society Summer Course Class

It is summer time, and in the southern part of heaven that means one thing: a new group of young, bright, and talented undergraduates have arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill to participate in the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program in Biophysics. I am Mike Jarstfer, Director of the Summer Program, and it is my pleasure to introduce this years participants. This year we welcome an excellent cohort of students from as far away as California and as near as Durham, NC. The 13 students participating in the program will face new challenges in the lab and classroom, develop professional skills associated with post graduate education, and have fun!  The students have matched with labs in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering,  Physics, Biology, Pharmacy, and Pharmacology!  So the breadth of their geographic origins is matched by the scientific interests of this excellent group. In addition to hard work in the laboratory, classroom, professional development exercises, and seminar series, the students will also have some fun.

The group will attend a baseball game at the famous Durham Bull’s stadium (the same one in the movie Bull Durham!) and take a weekend to visit a beautiful North Carolina beach. Midway through the summer, the students are also looking forward to meeting summer course alumni during our reunion weekend and developing long-lasting networks critical for success. These relationships will be further nurtured at the annual Biophysical Society Annual Meeting where we always host a dinner for the program alumni in attendance.

Everyone at UNC is excited to be working with this great group and I personally am looking forward to developing lifelong connections with each of them.

-Mike Jarstfer, Biophysical Society Summer Course Director