Biophysics of Cells and Single Molecules

Course content

This course aims to give a broad introduction to cell mechanics and single molecule research with a focus on experimental biophysics.

Cells generate and sustain mechanical forces within their environment as part of their normal physiology. The active materials of the cell can detect mechanical stimulation by the activation of mechanosensitive signaling pathways, and respond to physical cues through cytoskeletal re-organization and force generation. Perturbations to the mechanical environment can affect cell behavior through mechano-sensing at the cell surface. To better understand these mechanisms we will explore physical phenomena like cytoskeleton dynamics, cell-cell interactions, viscoelasticity and perturbations to the mechanical environment influences cellular growth, shape maintenance, decision-making, motility etc.

The course is based on a combination of classical cell mechanics in combination with recent research results. Hence, an important aspect of the course is critical assessment of primary literature.


MSc Programme in Nanoscience
MSc Programme in Physics
MSc Programme in Physics with a minor subject

Learning outcome


The aim of the course is to make the students able to:

  • describe biological polymers with continuous mechanics
  • explain how entropy drives elasticity of biopolymers
  • describe polymerization dynamics and how it drives pushing and pulling
  • explain directed motion of molecular motors
  • identify the few key parameters that drive cell motility
  • apply non-equilibrium theories; including Jarzynski's Equality and Crooks theorem
  • describe polymer networks and membranes with continuous mechanics
  • classify viscous and elastic regimes for cellular micro-rheology
  • Derive analytical expressions predicting shapes of biomembranes
  • Classify the different physical interactions that exist between biomembranes
  • Derive analytic expressions for the different nano-scale interactions between biomembranes


The course aims at providing an overview of the field of cell mechanics; including single molecule systems such as molecular motors and nuclear acids, as well as the mechanics of membranes and the dynamic filaments of the cytoskeleton. Furthermore, the student will gain knowledge of particular examples from the forefront of experimental biophysics research.

The aim of the course is that the student should be able to apply physics to obtain a quantitative understanding of complex biological systems. The course participants will understand how important force and mechanical properties are for the development of life at all scales. The course participants will also gain competences in understanding the principles, capabilities, and limitations of some  techniques commonly used to study experimental biophysics. Finally, the students will learn to critically read scientific papers and to disseminate the content to fellow students.

Lectures, theoretical exercises, student presentations of primary literature as well as a mandatory project.

See Absalon for final course material. The following is an example of expected course literature:

Physical Biology of the Cell 2nd edition edited by Prof. R Phillips (ISBN 9780815344506) in combination with primary literature (scientific papers) and lecture notes.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree in biophysics, physics, or nanoscience.
However, in the past also students with, e.g., a biochemical, chemical or biological background have successfully completed the course.

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20-30 minutes
Continuous assessment
Type of assessment details
The mandatory project will be in the middle of the course period and will be based on answering questions in connection to scientific papers. The oral exam will take place in the exam week after the course period; the students will beforehand receive the questions for the oral exam and there will be no preparation time at the exam.
Exam registration requirements

Each student must have presented at least once during the course and must have completed the mandatory project in order to register for the oral exam.

Without aids

no aids allowed for the oral exam

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

Same as the regular exam. It will be possible to re-submit the presentation and the mandatory project before the re-exam; please contact the course responsible.

Criteria for exam assessment

see learning outcome

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 30
  • Class Instruction
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 105
  • Theory exercises
  • 20
  • Project work
  • 30
  • Exam
  • 1
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 1
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
  • Liselotte Jauffred   (18-706d77697073787869326e65796a6a7669684472666d326f7932686f)
Saved on the 28-02-2023

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