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About Physiology & Biophysics


The Department of Physiology & Biophysics is built on the principles of integrity and service. These principles are the foundation of our contributions to the State of Washington, the UW, the international science community, and the broader public. Our mission centers on three areas.  Discovery: to explain physiological processes at the molecular, cellular, tissue, and organismal levels. Training: to provide high-quality, rigorous training that prepares students and postdoctoral scholars for science- and medicine-related careers. Communication: to disseminate scientific results and share our passion for science.

What are physiology and biophysics?

Physiology is the study of the physical and chemical mechanisms by which cells and organs work, and encompasses processes from the molecular and cellular level to the driving of behavior. This discipline has a long and distinguished history and constitutes the cornerstone of medical research. Biophysics is also a diverse discipline, based on the use of physical methods to study biological problems. This includes subject areas as wide-ranging as the development of tools for manipulating single molecules in vivo to the application of information theory to understand neural coding.

About our Department

From the laboratories of the department have come fundamental contributions to the understanding of the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, muscle contraction, endocrinology, respiration, ion channels, molecular motors, and the cytoskeleton. These successes have been achieved by the application of a host of principles and techniques from molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, engineering, and mathematics to the study of living cells and organisms. Bertil Hille’s Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes, Fred Rieke and coauthors’ Spikes and a number of other books attest to the intellectual depth and breadth of the faculty. An integral component of the department’s activities is its doctoral training program. For the last thirty years our graduate program has been ranked among the top ten in the nation. The success of our training lies in the stimulating environment provided by the vigorous research endeavors of the faculty. Since its inception in 1946, the department has awarded over 170 Ph.D. degrees and has trained an even greater number of postdoctoral fellows. A recent study of almost 100 graduates from our program who received their Ph.D. degrees in the last 20 years shows that 65% currently hold academic positions, 15% are in industry or government and 15% are in medicine.

One of the outstanding aspects of the department is the high degree of collegiality and collaboration among research groups, translating into great opportunities for interdisciplinary projects for students and postdocs. The atmosphere is relaxed and egalitarian. Among our faculty we count avid cyclists, guitarists, hikers, photographers, cinemaphiles, artists, kayakers, skiers, sailors and fishermen.