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Biological Physics Under the Microscope


A/Professor Andrew Clayton
Centre for Micro-Photonics, Swinburne University of Technology

3:30 pm Friday, 22 September 2017, EN101 Lecture Theatre (EN Building), Hawthorn.


Biological physics, broadly speaking, attempts to measure, understand and describe the laws of living systems. Living systems exhibit hierarchy of scale spanning angstroms to kilometres and femtoseconds to years. The simplest unit of life is the cell and this was first discovered following the invention of the optical microscope. Cells consist of smaller levels of organisation called organelles. In turn, organelles contain macromolecular complexes that act as nano-machines that carry out extraordinary mechanical and chemical tasks.  The field of biochemistry has done a wonderful job in separating, purifying and characterising the macromolecules that make up the cell. Using x-ray crystallography, “structural biologists” (mainly physicists) have determined the three dimensional structures of a large (but an incomplete) list of macromolecules and macromolecular complexes at angstrom resolution. Sometime later, the biological application of spectroscopic methods, such as electron spin resonance and fluorescence, provided biophysicists with the notion that biological macromolecules are not static, as suggested by x-ray structures, but highly dynamic entities. These studies imply that in order to understand even the basic unit of life, we need to do experiments on molecules in living cells.

At Swinburne, the Cell Biophysics Laboratory has been developing methods to interrogate dynamics at different hierarchies in the living cell.   In this talk. I will outline these new methods and provide examples of dynamics at the macromolecule, organelle and cellular levels.

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