PHY3061 The Biophysics of Cells and Tissues 2017-18
Prof. C.P. Winlove
Delivery Weeks: T1:01-11
Level: 6 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 16 students (approx)


This module describes the fundamental physical properties of biomolecules, cells and tissues and introduces some of the biophysical and biomechanical challenges in understanding the behaviour of normal tissues and their failures in disease.

Module Aims

The physical properties of tissues and their constituent cells and biomolecules are central to their biological functions. Physical processes are also vital to normal growth and development and diseases, ranging from arthritis to cancer, may be related to failures in these processes.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

  1. The Biophysics of the Extracellular Matrix
    1. Overview: Biological Functions of Extracellular Matrix
    2. Biophysics of Matrix Macromolecules
      1. Proteoglycans
        1. Structure
        2. Biophysical Properties and Functions: theory of water and solute transport in polymers; polyelectrolyte theory and osmotic pressure.
      2. The Fibrous Proteins: Collagen and Elastin
        1. Structure and Functions
        2. Molecular Mechanics
        3. Tissue Biomechanics
    3. Tissue Biomechanics
      1. Theoretical Models
        1. Lumped Parameter Models
        2. Pore-elasticity
      2. Soft Tissues
        1. Ligaments: structure and functions; mechanics
        2. Cartilage: structure and functions; mechanics; physical aspects of cartilage diseases
        3. Blood Vessels: structure and functions; physical aspects of vascular diseases
      3. Bone
        1. Structure
        2. Bone as an adaptive, fibre-reinforced composite
  2. Cellular Biophysics
    1. Overview: the cell as a physical system
    2. The Physics of the Cell Membrane
      1. Structure and functions
      2. Phospholipids
        1. The hydrophobic interaction
        2. The Fluid Mosaic Model
      3. Membrane Proteins
        1. Organisation
        2. Functions
    3. The Cytoskeleton
      1. The Red Cell (Cortical) Skeleton
        1. Structure
        2. Functions
      2. The Cytoplasmic Skeleton
        1. Structure
        2. Functions: cell growth and motility; molecular motors
    4. Cell Mechanics
      1. Experimental Measurement
        1. Atomic Force Microscopy
        2. Optical trapping
        3. Magnetic Bead Rheometry
        4. Micropipette Aspiration
        5. Fluctuation Spectroscopy
      2. Theoretical Models
        1. Lumped Parameter Models
        2. The Tensegrity Model
    5. Mechanotransduction
      1. Cellular transduction, reception and response
      2. In Vitro Experiments
        1. Compressive Loading
        2. Cell stretching
        3. Fluid Flow
      3. Physiological and Pathological Implications

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
20×1-hour lectures 20 hours SLT
2×1-hour problems/revision classes 2 hours SLT
5×6-hour self-study packages 30 hours GIS
4×4-hour problem sets 16 hours GIS
Reading, private study and revision 82 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
0% Guided self-study 5×6-hour packages Fortnightly 1-6 Discussion in class
0% 4 × Problems sets 4 hours per set Fortnightly 1-6 Solutions discussed in problems classes.
100% Final Examination 2 hours 30 minutes January 1-6 Mark via MyExeter, collective feedback via ELE and solutions.


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules Vector Mechanics (PHY1021), Properties of Matter (PHY1024) and Thermal Physics (PHY2023)
Co-requisite Modules none


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment
Whole module Written examination (100%) 1-6 August/September assessment period

Notes: See Physics Assessment Conventions.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 22 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 128 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 0%
Written exams 100%
Practical exams 0%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • N/A this is an optional module
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Placeholder; Main; Topic placeholder; Specific; Cells; Tissues placeholder; Tissues; Specific skill; Biophysics; .
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised N/A