New graduate program in biophysics attracts top faculty from across the University

Princeton is launching a Ph.D. program in biophysics for students who wish to study at the interface between living systems and physics, at all scales, from molecules to ecosystems, including experimental and theoretical work.

“Living matter organizes itself to do remarkable things,” said Joshua Shaevitz, director of graduate studies for the new program. “Princeton’s biophysics community tackles these challenges from every angle, combining cutting-edge experiments with fundamental theory to make sense of complex biological phenomena. From molecular mechanics to bacterial communities to development tissues and networks of thousands of neurons in the brain, we are advancing through collaborative efforts that merge different departments and ways of thinking.”

The multidisciplinary program is led by faculty from across the University: from the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, which administers the program, as well as the departments of Chemistry, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Computer Science, Ecology and evolutionary biology, mechanics and aerospace engineering, molecular biology, neuroscience and physics.

“In my opinion, we have the strongest theoretical biophysics group in the world,” said Shaevitz, who is also a professor of physics and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. “We have Nobel Prize winners in this field. We have people who have just won the breakthrough award for phase separation liquid-liquid phase separation which is at the heart of molecular biophysics. We have a very strong group in imaging and microscopy. A number of people are involved in experimental physics, designing and building new kinds of tools.”

The 35 faculty in the program include members of the National Academy of Sciences, Howard Hughes scholars, and early-career faculty who have received major national research prizes and awards. See the full list of teachers here.

“It’s scattered across campus, but collectively Princeton has one of the best biophysics research programs in the world,” Shaevitz said. “And that’s special, because most biophysics programs are more narrowly focused. Here at Princeton, what we call biophysics, and what we consider our community, spans from the smallest molecular scales down to to groups of animals and ecosystems and almost the entire planet.”

Princeton is also home to the Center for the Physics of Biological Function, an NSF Physics Frontier Center focused on experimental and theoretical research in biophysics.

“Over the past 20 years, biophysics has grown extensively on campus,” Shaevitz said. “It was partly a conscious effort and partly organic. At this point, you can find biophysicists in almost every science and engineering department on campus in one way or another. But what we found out was that we had amazing undergraduates, and with the Physics Frontier Center we had some really great postdoctoral fellows, but we didn’t have room for graduate students who come out of undergrad knowing that they want to work in this interface between biology and physics.”

Students in the new Biophysics graduate program will have access to a wealth of resources, including state-of-the-art microscopy, computational, and manufacturing capabilities.

The program is now accepting applicants for the 2023-2024 school year. To join the inaugural class, applicants must apply directly to the Biophysics program through Princeton University Graduate School by December 1, 2022.

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