Biological Physics and Biophysics

‌The Physics of Life Group at York captures Biological Physics and Biophysics, involving biophysics research and teaching which includes experimental and theoretical biophysics tools spanning multiple length and time scales, as well the use of physical science tools and techniques to address biophysics questions in the life sciences, physical methods of relevance to technology touching life (TTL) applications in biology and biomedicine, and approaches which use biophysics in the context of biological- derived material to explore new physics. The Physics of Life Group is an enthusiastic, growing biophysics team comprising multiple biophysics research groups spanning several research themes in the Physics Department at the University of York, and we interface closely with the University of York’s Biological Physical Sciences Institute (BPSI) and through a range of cross-departmental collaborations between physical and life scientists focused on a range of biophysics questions.


Andrew Gibson‌‌

Dr Andrew Gibson

Centre for Future Health Research Fellow


My research focusses on the development of computational approaches to study the interactions of low-temperature plasmas with cellular environments and drive their applications in biomedicine. These applications are motivated by the unique ability of low-temperature plasmas to produce high quantities of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) at ambient temperature. RONS are crucial for an array of cellular functions, forming the basis of redox biology. As a result, plasma treatment of cells is capable of modifying their redox environment, inducing diverse biology responses ranging from cell death to proliferation. Currently, my work is exploring how computational approaches adapted from plasma modelling may be applied to study the complex redox chemistry involved in the plasma-cell interaction system. Overall, this research aims to develop a fundamental understanding of these interactions in order to accelerate low-temperature plasmas towards the clinic.


Robert Greenall

‌Dr Robert Greenall

Reader in Physics


Research interests: The effects of polycations on the conformational properties of DNA have been investigated using classical molecular dynamics simulations. The current focus is on molecules that intercalate into DNA, such as ellipticine (a DNA topoisomerase inhibitor) and daunomycin (an anti-leukemia agent).

Teaching: The fourth year MPhys Molecular Biophysics course introduces physical concepts, models and experimental and theoretical techniques from the physical sciences that are used in the study of biological systems. It encompasses x-ray and neutron scattering to determine structure, the physical forces that stabilise structure and the thermodynamic and statistical mechanical basis of the dynamics of biological systems.


Yvette Hancock  

Dr Yvette Hancock

Senior Lecturer in Physics


Hancock's group employs interdisciplinary research at the physics-biological interface. Methods include quantitative Raman spectroscopy for biomarker determination in cancer, regenerative medicine, infectious disease, antimicrobials and bio-archaeology in collaboration with many key Departments (Biology, Computer Science, Chemistry, Mathematics, Electronics, Archaeology) and Centres (The Cancer Research Unit, Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders, BioArCh) at the University of York, in the UK and internationally. Her group aims to develop Raman spectroscopy biomarking for rapid disease diagnosis, understanding disease mechanisms and for treatment development. Her group also develops Raman analytical software and performs theoretical modelling of materials systems for nanoscale and biological applications. New collaborations are always welcome.

Dr José Juan-Colás

Centre for Future Health Fellow



My multidisciplinary research focuses on the development of novel biosensor technologies for healthcare, biomedical science and environmental monitoring [1,2,3,4]. Currently, I am developing new technologies to understand and control how diverse bacteria grow and form potent polymicrobial communities. Understanding the bacteria that make up these communities, how the community is structured and how bacteria interact with each other and with the host is critical if we are to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, which has been named as a “crisis for the health and wealth of nations”.

Particularly, I am using microfluidic systems for bacterial co-culture in which the local growth conditions are regulated on-chip, while incorporating different non-destructive measurement techniques (such as on-chip Raman spectroscopy and label-free optical and electrochemical sensors) to study their evolution.

1. Nature Communications, 7:12769, doi:10.1038/ncomms12769
2. ACS Photonics, 2017, 4(9), 2320–2326, doi:10.1021/acsphotonics.7b00580
3. Sensors, 2017, 17(9), 2047, doi:10.3390/s17092047
4. Springer International Publishing AG, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-60501-2

Prof Thomas F. Krauss

Professor of Photonics




The aim of my research is to understand and control the interaction of light and matter and to build functional devices that benefit from this understanding. My group design, fabricate and characterise photonic nanostructures in silicon in order to control light at the wavelength scale. In terms of Biophotonics, we use this capabilities to develop novel sensing and imaging modalities [1,2] that allow us to address different biological questions, such us biofilm formation, label-free cell secretion or the effect of antibiotics on bacteria. In collaboration with Pepe Juan-Colas and Steve Johnson, we are developing multimodality by combining electrical impdance with optical methods in what we call the “electrophotonic” approach [3]. 

[1] GJ Triggs, Y Wang, CP Reardon, M Fischer, GJO Evans, TF Krauss, “Chirped guided-mode resonance biosensor” Optica 4 (2), 229-234 (2017)
[2] S Johnson, TF Krauss, “Label-free affinity biosensor arrays: novel technology for molecular diagnostics” Expert review of medical devices 14 (3), 177-179 (2017)
[3] J Juan-Colás, A Parkin, KE Dunn, MG Scullion, TF Krauss, SD Johnson, “The electrophotonic silicon biosensor” Nature Communications 7, 12769 (2016)

Mark Leake‌Prof Mark Leake

Chair in Biological Physics




My work on bespoke microscope design and ultrasensitive imaging technologies has led to insight into how biological reactions progress in real time. Early work included optical tweezer instrumentation to probe mechanical properties of muscle (1), interferometric imaging approaches for the study of flagellar motors in action(2) and single molecule fluorescence imaging of membrane proteins in bacteria (3). I developed single molecule tools to dissect the architecture of bacterial DNA replication machinery resulting in the first observation of three DNA polymerases at replication forks instead of the historically accepted two(4). Development of these tools resulted in direct observation of the mechanisms of structural maintenance of chromosome (SMC) proteins, required for chromosome processing in all organisms (5). Current projects focus on single molecule fluorescence probing of DNA-protein machines in cells, biofilms and tissues, and new tools of magneto-optical tweezers with super-resolution imaging(6,7).

1. (2004) Biophys. J., 87, 1112; 2. (2005) Nature, 437, 916. 3. (2006) Nature, 443, 355; 4. (2010) Science, 328, 498; 5. (2012) Science, 338, 528; 6. (2015) Methods, 88, 81; 7. (2015) Photonics, 2, 758.

Tom McLeishProf Tom McLeish

Chair of Natural Philosophy




My research maintains a core of soft-matter and biological physics, especially concerning the role of random processes in protein dynamics, self-assembly of bio-molecular fibres and in evolution itself. 
I also have broad interdisciplinary research interests concerning science within wider historical and cultural contexts. These include collaborative work on medieval science, the philosophy of strong emergence, the entanglement of science with literature and the theology of science.

Projects include:

Dynamic mechanisms of Protein Allostery

  • Self-assembly of Silk Fibres under Flow
  • Statistical Mechanics of Evolution
  • Interdisciplinary Readings of the Scientific Works of Robert Grosseteste
  • Wisdom Literature and a Theology of Science
  • Comparative Creativity in Arts, Humanities and Sciences

Dr Agnes Noy

EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow


I am an EPSRC Fellow with a multi-disciplinary trajectory in molecular modelling between biochemistry and biophysics. My research interests have been centred in developing novel computational tools to understand and predict how global mechanical properties of complex macromolecules such as DNA and RNA are built on the basis of their atomic fluctuations, with a particular emphasis in DNA flexibility and supercoiling. My research group will focus on understanding and predicting the 3D architecture of bacteria genomes on a broad range of length scales with a multi-scale approach: from atomistic and coarse-grained simulations to statistical-mechanics algorithms.For more information visit

Nature Methods, (2016), 13, 55; J Chem Theor Comput, (2015), 11, 2768; Phys Rev Lett, (2012), 109, 228101.

Deborah O'Connell‌Dr Deborah O’Connell

Reader in Physics



The aim of my research is to understand and develop low-temperature plasmas for tailored applications, including emerging biomedical technologies. Low-temperature plasmas or ‘cold’ plasmas exploit the fact that they are effective and tuneable sources of reactive oxygen and nitrogenspecies (RONS), known to play an important role in biological systems. These plasmas have been demonstrated as having potential in for example anti-cancer treatments, antimicrobials, and wound healing. My research group is inter-disciplinary and we collaborate closely with research groups across the Departments of Biology and Chemistry.

 Chem. Eur. J. (2016) 22, 3496;  Tumor Biology (2016) 37 6 7021; British Journal of Cancer (2015) 112 1536

Dr Stephen Quinn

Dr Steven Quinn

Lecturer in Biophysics



I am a Lecturer in Biophysics, specializing in multidisciplinary science across the Departments of Physics and Biology. My work combines recent advances in biochemistry with state-of-the-art microscopy tools to probe the molecular building blocks of human life and disease. My focus is the application of single-molecule microscopy techniques to investigate complex biological processes in order to drive the rational design of next-generation therapeutics. 

The field of single-molecule biophysics is at the forefront of the life-sciences interface, allowing the very building blocks of human life (DNA, RNA, proteins) to be explored with unprecedented levels of detail. By following individual biomolecules at work, we can directly measure biological interactions, chemical reactions and discrete structural changes that may be impossible to detect by conventional methods. Single-molecule techniques are uniquely placed to enable us to understand how biomolecules and molecular machines function. 

My early work led to the development of new approaches for monitoring protein-protein interactions heavily linked with Alzheimer’s disease (Mol. Biosyst. 2014, 10, 34-44) and for the screening of inhibitors (Mol. Cell. Neurosci. 2014, 61, 46-55; ChemBioChem 2016, 17, 1029-1037). I have also investigated how DNA base-pairing is modulated by molecular crowders (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2015, 137, 16020-16023), developed a platform for identifying carbohydrate interactions (ChemPhysChem. 2016, 120, 19487-19491) and created a sensing technique based on quantum dot light emission for identifying toxic MRI contrast agents (J. Phys. Chem. C. 2016, 120, 19487-19491; RSC Adv. 2017, 7, 24730-24735).

We are currently targeting protein-protein interactions related to cancer and protein-induced disruption of lipid membranes and their link to neurodegeneration. The primary experimental approaches combine advanced fluorescence microscopy tools, such as total-internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) imaging, with cutting-edge biophysical and biochemical techniques.

Laurence Wilson‌Dr Laurence Wilson

Senior Lecturer in Biological Physics



Our group in the physics department at the University of York specialises in the application of novel optical microscopy techniques. In particular, we take advantage of high-speed imaging and advanced image-processing algorithms, coupled with classical optics principles and scattering theory.  We have recently used approaches based on dynamic light scattering and holography to give new insight into the swimming behaviour of micro-organisms including E. coliC. reinhardtii, and cellular parasites such as Plasmodium and Leishmania.   Our group website contains more details about our techniques and publications.

Nat. Commun. 6 7985 (2015).; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 110(47) 18769-18774 (2013).;  Phys. Rev. Lett. 106 018101 (2011).

Adam WoolmanDr Adam Wollman

Centre for Future Health Research Fellow


Glucose fuels the human body and if not regulated correctly, as in diabetes, causes serious health problems. Over 400 million people have diabetes and it is now one of the leading causes of death worldwide. My research has tried to understand these basic mechanisms using yeast cells as a model organism and imaging them with a novel fluorescence microscope, which I designed and built, and is capable of imaging the individual protein molecules that sense and respond to glucose.

To better understand glucose metabolism, I propose to develop a new glucose nanosensor which can enter the cell and measure, for the first time, the amount of glucose taken up by a living cell. This sensor technology could also have a more direct clinical application as the greater sensitivity would allow glucose monitoring from saliva, sweat or tears rather than the current more invasive blood sampling that is required.

I have designed and built a single molecule microscope at the University of York and applied it to many life and health science problems. Mentored by Prof. Mark Leake and working with many excellent collaborators, I have investigated transcription factors in yeast (eLifeFaraday DiscussionsFEMS letters), DNA replication in E.coli (eLife), division in S. Aureus (Physical Biology), human immune cells and toxins (bioArXiv) and more.

For microscopists, I utilise many super resolution and other techniques including: Slimfield, TIRF, FRAP, PALM, STORM, confocal, EM, Optical and magnetic tweezers.

The Biophysics Group was established in 2015 following a series of open biophysics discussion events, where it became clear there were significant emergent activities aligned either directly with addressing biological questions, or with applying biophysics to applications in the life sciences, including the use of biological or bio-inspired devices and materials.

The resulting Biophysics and Biological Physics seminar series has become a very popular networking vehicle running 4-6 times each term. The regular attendance of 20-30 people stimulates lively discussions, allows junior members to find their voice and provides focused project and grant pitching talks as well as talks from biophysics experts from other departments.

The strength of depth of the Biophysics Group and its upward trajectory catalysed the formation of the Physics of Life Group, now a new, formalized major research super-group as of July 2018. We actively encourage new biophysics interest in the Physics of Life Group, and are delighted to discuss possibilities of new recruitment into biological physics and biophysics. Just drop us an email and we will explore the ways in which we can help you develop your ideas. In particular, we are strongly supportive of hosting a range of external funded fellowships.

In addition, we would also consider helping to formulate joint fellowship appointments with our group and with other relevant departments in the University of York, in particular with the Department of Biology. The Physics of Life Group has an internationally recognised strength in depth spanning multiple areas of biophysics. We will work with you to help you develop a highly competitive application, offer structured, expert feedback as well as arranging expert mock interview panels where appropriate, and can even facilitate generating additional preliminary data in support of your application. We recommend early engagement with us to best help you to boost the competiveness of your application proposal.

Upcoming biological physics seminars

  • James Gilburt — 14 September 2018
    Understanding elongated high-identity repeat protein structure through single molecule techniques
  • Sandra Greive — 4 October 2018
  • Roland Kroger — 12 October 2018
  • Chris MacDonald — 16 November 2018
    Metabolic control of cell surface membrane proteins

Twitter updates

Biological Physical Sciences Institute (BPSI)


Physics of Life Summer School 2018, Durham Castle
A fantastic week with inspirational peers!

Biological Physics Away Day, Sandburn Hall, March 2018
Biological Physics Away Day
Sandburn Hall, March 2018