Introduction to Biophysics

Course content

The purpose of "Introduction to Biophysics" is to give a fundamental introdution to a wide range of modern biophysics. This ia a multidisciplinary scientific area where a number of theoretical and experimental methods from physics are used to understand and examine biological systems. The course begins from the fundamental biological building blocks, including proteins, DNA/RNA and membranes. We discuss their structure and interactions both on a molecular leval and their role in large systems such as the structure of the cell, the movement of organisms and the signalling of nerves. We describe the fundamental physical mechanisms for interaction and transport that biological organisms use, and we introduce modern experimental techniques for obtaining structural and thermodynamical biophysical information at the nanoscale.

The subsequent specialized courses at NBI in biophysics will build upon the foundation established in this course. Thus the course is both intended for students wishing to specialize in this area, and for those curious to know about modern biophysics.


BSc Programme in Biotechnology
BSc Programme in Physics

Learning outcome


After the course, the student will:

  • know the fundamental biologial building blocks and their structure, particularly protein, DNA/RNA and lipid membranes. Including an understanding of both electrostatic and hydrophobic/hydrophile interactions.
  • understand the role of water in biology, the hydrophobic effect and the cold unfolding of proteins.
  • know the constituents of biological membranes and what the typical membrane formation is in living organisms.
  • understand the basic thermodynamic laws, the role of entropy in the definition of the states of biomolecules, the law of mass action, the van't Hoof equation.
  • be able to describe the phases of membranes, cooperative transitions and fluctuations.



  • Explain the basic terms of statistical thermodynamics and their use in cooperative transitions, including enzyme activity and allosteric reactions.
  • Derive phase diagrams from "ideal solution" theory and "real solution" theory, including the lever principle and Gibbs phase rule.
  • Explain the origin of the effect of anesthetics on membranes.



  • Analyze heat capacity profiles for protein foldiing and membrane melting.
  • Derive and apply the most essential models and equations of diffusion.
  • Derive the Debye-Hückel theory and the Guy Chapman theory for the electrostatic potential of membranes.

Lectures, problem sessions, guest lectures, student presentations and a project.

See Absalon for final teaching material.

The following is an example of expected course litterature.


While most of the course is based on a handout, the following is recommended literature for additional reading:

  • Physical Biology of the Cell, Phillips, Kondev, Theriot and Garcia, 2nd edition, 2013. Garland Science.
  • Random Walks in Biology, Howard C. Berg, Princeton University Press1993
  • T. Heimburg, Thermal Biophysics of Membranes, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2007

A limited number of copies of these books can be found in the library

mechanics, thermodynamics and calculus.

This course replaces "Introduction to Bio- and Medical Physics".

The course is identical to the discontinued course NFYB16009U Introduktion til Bio- og Medicinsk Fysik. Therefore you cannot register for NFYB21002U - Introduction to Biophysics, if you have already passed NFYB16009U Introduktion til Bio- og Medicinsk Fysik.
If you are registered with examination attempts in NFYB16009U Introduktion til Bio- og Medicinsk Fysik without having passed the course, you have to use your last examination attempts to pass the exam in NFYB21002U - Introduction to Biophysics. You have a total of three examination attempts.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 30 minutes
Type of assessment details
No preparation time.
Exam registration requirements

One mandatory project must be approved.

Only certain aids allowed

Index cards with key words from each subject are allowed.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners.

Same as regular exam. The exam prerequisite is the same; if the student does not have an approved project, a new project must be submitted no later than 3 weeks before the re-exam.

Criteria for exam assessment

See Learning Outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 125,5
  • Theory exercises
  • 14
  • Project work
  • 20
  • Seminar
  • 4
  • Exam
  • 0,5
  • English
  • 206,0


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level

1 block

Block 1
no restriction
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board of Physics, Chemistry and Nanoscience
Contracting department
  • The Niels Bohr Institute
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Thomas Rainer Heimburg   (7-796d6a6e72677a4573676e33707a336970)
Saved on the 28-02-2023

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Courseinformation of students