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Biophysical Sciences Institute

BSI Blog

Below are a series of blog posts from a variety of BSI members. These are comment pieces about our current research or news from BSI members.


2017 Nobel Prizes

Ribbon diagram of the crystal structure of the MjHSP16.5 R107G

The first week of October has now become the traditional time for the announcement of the Nobel prizes and again this year there has been a strong focus on scientists working at the interface of traditional scientific disciplines. 

All three science prizes announced this year are interdisciplinary in nature. Although the Physics prize (Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne), based around the discovery of gravity waves, appears on the surface to be in an area of very fundamental physics this does not tell the entire story. In order to detect the waves extremely stable lasers and ultra-sensitive low noise detectors had to be developed and these are now being explored for potential long-term use in optical microscopy.

For the other two predominantly science prizes, interdisciplinarity overtly played a vital underpinning role in the awards. In the case of the Physiology or Medicine prize (Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young) the award was for the discovery of the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms. These regulate the timing of all biological activities and are present in all plants and animals. To fully understand this process required gene manipulation techniques and subsequent proteomic analysis but the real advance was when the team linked this data with the way that these proteins interacted within cells. This meant the application of structural analysis methods developed by protein crystallographers was combined with advanced single molecule microscopy to study what was taking place within cells. Without all of these different branches of science (biology, chemistry and physics) coming together the puzzle could not have been solved. This fundamental life science understanding has some significant potential for healthcare as circadian rhythms have been linked with a number of health related issues such as when treatments should be given to patients, decreasing the risk factors for certain diseases as well as the one which afflicts all travellers to some extent, that of “curing” jet lag.

(11 Oct 2017) » More about 2017 Nobel Prizes

About the Durham Biophysical Sciences Institute

"The BSI is a community of interdisciplinary academics, researchers and students who have research interests at the boundary between the life sciences and the other sciences including physics, chemistry and psychology, as well as mathematics and engineering."

- Professor John Girkin, BSI Director.

The BSI is proud of its ongoing links with the Physics of Life network. Now in its second phase PoLNet2 is being led by Durham University’s Prof. Tom McLeish (Physics) and Dr Martin Cann (Biosciences). For more information about the network and its current events please visit: