Some Remarks on the History of Biophysics (and its Future)

Someone looking through a number of contemporary textbooks and introductions in biophysics - as I did - and wanting to know exactly what biophysics is and what the field covers, will be quite bewildered. Even the titles of the books with their diversity of names for the field, besides biophysics, such as „Medical Physics“, „Medical and Biological Physics“, „Physical Biology“, „Physical Bases of Medicine and Biology“, and „Molecular Biology“, already show the existence of different interpretations and tendencies.

Looking at the tables of content, we find that some books have the application of physical devices and measurements to physiological problems as the only subject of biophysics. Some others are structured according to the different categories of physical phenomena, i.e. the mechanical, thermal, acoustical, electromagnetic and nuclear, gas, fluid etc. aspects of living systems, or according to the different systems in the organism. In not a few instances, life processes such as transport processes, chemical reaction kinetics, the acid-base-balance, and diffusion processes are treated without reference to the organisational level concerned. In general - with a few notable exceptions - the notion of a hierarchy of subsystems within the biological system, and any kind of overall view of the organism as a whole, is completely absent or relegated to the introduction. In only a few instances we find a chapter on theoretical biophysics aimed at a synthesis of all these partial aspects of the biophysical treatment of organisms.

Copyright 1995 By Marco Bischof
Paper delivered at the 1st Hombroich Symposium on Biophysics, Neuss, Germany, October 3-6, 1995.
Published in „Current Development of Biophysics“ (edited by C.L.Zhang, F.A.Popp and M.Bischof), Hangzhou University Press, Hangzhou, China, 1996.

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