Biophysicists attempt to explain why our biophysical environment behaves as it does. They develop new methods to address the mechanisms of biological processes at every level.

Biophysicists use knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology to explain how living organisms work. They investigate how the brain processes and stores information, the heart pumps blood, muscles contract, plants use light in photosynthesis, and genetic functions, amongst other issues. They are interested in the physics and physical chemistry of biological processes.

Biophysicists study how organisms develop, see, hear, think and live. They study human genetics in relation to our biophysical environment and how they interact. They use computers extensively for data collection and analysis and other projects, such as the Human Genome project and stem cell research.

Biophysicists also design and perform experiments with lasers, cyclotrons, telescopes, mass spectrometers, and other equipment. Based on observations and analysis, they attempt to discover and explain laws describing the forces of physical and human nature. Their discoveries have an impact on biotechnology and medicine. Biophysics has the tools to understand the molecular basis of diseases such as sickle cell anaemia and AIDS. Knowledge of the way proteins and membranes work provides a basis for drug design.

Biophysicists must be able to think creatively and scientifically when coming up with experimental ideas. Knowledge of physics and biology not only leads to a profound understanding of the physical world, but also provides the world with the insight to develop new and innovative ideas in biophysics. Biophysics is one of the most fascinating and intellectually challenging fields of scientific study because it deals with human beings.

Biophysicists usually work in groups or teams of other scientists and professionals with other backgrounds to collaborate on solving common problems. For example, some will study molecules, while others research proteins and the scientists then bring their findings together to find solutions to medical and health problems. Also, in DNA research, biophysicists study the functions of these molecules and proteins and this is helping in useful fields such as criminology.

Research biophysicists write scientific articles and papers and present their work at international conferences. An integral part of being a successful scientist is keeping up-to-date with the current technological trends and scientific studies in the field. Biophysicists who work as professors teach undergraduate and graduate university courses and supervise and guide the work of technical staff and graduate students.

Personal Requirements

  • attention to detail
  • able to communicate effectively
  • aptitude for physics, biology and mathematics
  • able to communicate effectively
  • have problem-solving skills and determination
  • able to work alone or as part of a team
  • enjoy research

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics and Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

In addition, check the university admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study

Degree: BSc majoring in Physics, 4 years

Postgraduate study: Masters and a PhD in physics or a sub-discipline of physics.

Biophysicists who wish to do original research generally need to obtain a PhD and spend one to five years in post-doctoral research in a university or government laboratory. In medical biophysics, one to two years of post-degree clinical (residency) training is required.


  • universities and colleges
  • education and government departments
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • research laboratories
  • science museums
  • hospitals
  • environmental protection organisations
  • processing, manufacturing, and research and consulting firms

Further Information

South African Association of Physicists in Medicine and Biology, SAAPMB
P O Box 31818
Fichardt Park
Bloemfontein, 9317

Getting Started

  • speak to a biophysicist about this career
  • read up on biophysics and work on your computer skills
  • spend as much time as possible in a laboratory

Programmes by Study Institutions

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