The Department of Physiology & Biophysics recruits students through interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs at the University of Washington. Our faculty are affiliated with one or more of these programs that provide high quality training in a wide range of scientific research areas.
Physiology & Biophysics (PBio) students enter the program from a variety of backgrounds (including physics, engineering, medicine, and neurobiology). This diversity is reflected in the backgrounds of the faculty. The combination of research approaches and techniques represented by these different fields is critical to success in modern biological sciences. Through formal and informal instruction we aim to help each individual student make use of his or her background while also establishing a core set of knowledge all students share.
While research in the department is generally diverse and multidisciplinary, here is a rough breakdown of areas of interest within the department, and suggestions for possible advisors and courses:
Systems neuroscience is concerned with how cells behave when connected together to form neural networks. Its goal is to expose the link between perception, action and higher cognitive functions on the one hand and cells and molecules on the other. Traditionally, "systems neuroscience" was defined as the study of the function of neural circuits in intact organisms, but today it also draws on molecular and cellular approaches to understand the mechanisms underlying the vast array of complex functions that underlie sensory, motor and cognitive function.
Computational neuroscience uses mathematics to understand the computational function of neural systems. It includes the study of neural components as computational elements; the building of mathematical models to describe neural systems and behavior; the exploration of theoretical principles that underlie biological function and the development of mathematical tools for the analysis of experimental data.
Cell and molecular biophysics
Living cells crawl, eat, grow, duplicate themselves, sense the world around them, signal each other, and work together in communities to form the organs and tissues of every living thing. The aim of cell and molecular biophysics is to explain how these exquisite behaviors arise from physical interactions between molecules. Biophysicists apply the principles of quantitative physical science to study fundamental problems in biology. Often, this means building new instruments, and testing quantitative models of biological phenomena. In a sense, biophysics is an exploration of the boundary between living things, and inanimate molecules.
Molecular physiology and neurobiology
The central goal of molecular physiology and neurobiology is to uncover the essential molecules, and the important interactions between these molecules, that underlie the dynamics of healthy cells. In the long run, our limited understanding of the basic mechanisms of life is what limits our success in combating complex diseases like cancer, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative disease. So the study of healthy cells and tissues is a cornerstone of medical research. Scientists in these fields draw from an ever-growing array of techniques, including site-directed mutagenesis of proteins, high-resolution imaging of cells and tissues, and genetic manipulation of whole organisms.
This research group is composed of six independent laboratories with active research programs on the mechanisms controlling pulmonary gas exchange, circulation, and respiratory rate. Another area of research is smooth and cardiac muscle excitation-contraction coupling, the mechanisms that link electrical changes in the surface membrane of muscle cell to contraction. Investigators in the cardiorespiratory physiology research group employ a combination of molecular, cellular, biophysical, and whole organ approaches in their studies.