Physics of Medicine

Biological Physics

From biomolecular structure determination to electrophysiology, and the establishment of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the 1950s, the impact of the Cavendish Laboratory on multidisciplinary research in the biosciences is perhaps without parallel. Inspired by this early history, over the past decade, the Cavendish Laboratory has begun to strengthen its capacity in this area, establishing new collaborations with colleagues in the Schools of Biology and Clinical Medicine. Building on this platform, the promotion of Biological Physics now forms a significant part of the department's future development strategy.

Research at the Life Sciences interface is dispersed across several internal groups in the Cavendish, including in areas as diverse as Astrophysics, High Energy Physics, Nanoscience, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, and the Theory of Condensed Matter. However, the core of activity is focused on the Biology and Soft Systems group (or BSS), comprising some 100 research scientists (PIs, post-doctoral researchers and graduate students). A major fraction of their research is undertaken in a dedicated facility on the West Cambridge campus known as the Centre for the Physics of Medicine. With continuing financial support from the Beverly and Raymond Sackler Foundation, the building plays host to a number of collaborative activities, with partners across (and beyond) the University, including researchers at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, the Wellcome Trust-CRUK Gurdon Institute, the Departments of Chemistry, Genetics, Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, Zoology, the Clinical School, the Vet School, the Sainsbury Laboratory, the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Within the current portfolio of activities, researchers are actively involved in a wide range of topics, from the most basic (mechanistic) to the commerical and translational. In the area of technology development, the Cavendish has research interests in designing novel molecular imaging strategies for clinical application, microfluidics, optical manipulation techniques, single-molecule microscopy, DNA origami and the fabrication of artificial ion channels, biofilms, and single-cell transcriptional profiling. On the theoretical side, research activities include the development of novel image processing strategies for biological and clinical application, bioinformatics, biological (and social) network analysis, evolutionary dynamics, and biophysical modeling. Research interests include cancer research (from disease mechanisms to early diagnosis), cell mechanics and motility, chromatin organization and dynamics, development, immunity and infection, membrane transport, morphogenesis and patterning, physics of bacteria and algae, protein folding, subcellular processes, and stem cell biology.

As part of our efforts to promote and expand the area of biological physics, topics relevant to biological and biomedical research have become integrated into the graduate and undergraduate teaching programme of the Cavendish, with courses shared with partner departments. At the graduate level, the Cavendish participates in several doctoral training programmes that target the development of the Life Sciences interface, including the BBSRC doctoral training programme, Cambridge Sensors, and the Wellcome Trust 4 year doctoral programmes into Stem Cell Biology, Developmental Mechanisms, and Mathematical Genomics and Medicine. At the same time, members of the department support training and research networks, including the Physical Biology network, the Theory of Living Matter group, Synthetic Biology, as well as targeted strategic initiatives of the University including the Cardiovascular Disease, the Cambridge Cancer Centre, Neurosciences, and Stem Cell Biology.

Finally, visitors to this site may wish to know that the work being carried out at Cavendish in the area of Biological Physics represents just one element of a wider programme of research in Cambridge at the Life Sciences interface. In seeking to build and define this emerging area of research, we continue to work closely with partner activities and programmes across Cambridge, and notably in Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials Sciences. For further, more detailed, information on research activities in the Biological Physics, as well as opportunities for graduate study and post-doctoral research, visitors are advised to follow the links to associated groups.


Current research topics in the Cavendish include: