Certificate in Biological, Medical and/or Biological and Medical Physics


Biological physics is the study of physical processes that govern living systems. Energy transfer in photosynthesis, mechanisms of molecular transport on cell membranes, and chaotic behavior of excitable cells are examples of topics of study.

Medical physics also invokes these processes, with a view towards applications in several specialties, such as radiology (medical imaging) and radiation oncology (the use of ionizing radiation to treat cancer).

Training in physics provides a unique perspective and valuable insight to problems in biology and medicine. Physicists have contributed to the understanding of diverse biological phenomena such as:

  • Photosynthesis
  • The structure and function of cell membranes
  • The structure of DNA

They have long been pioneers in applying fundamental laws of nature in the development of sophisticated medical instrumentation and techniques, such as X-ray computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and positron emission tomography.

This certificate program is designed to provide students with the fundamentals necessary for applying physical principles to problems in biology or medicine, whether it be in the context of future graduate study or employment. It is administered by a committee within the department.

This committee approves individual programs and decides the nature of the certificate (biological physics, medical physics, or biological physics and medical physics). The Certificate Committee members are Professor Gao, Professor Knox, and Professor Zhong.

Certificate Requirements

In order to be eligible for a certificate in biological, medical, or biological and medical physics, a student must obtain at least a C+ in each of the following courses, except CHM 131 requires B+ if taken out of the seven required for the certificate.

PHY 235: Classical Mechanics
PHY 237: Quantum Mechanics of Physical Systems,

One of the following:

  • PHY 217: Electricity & Magnetism I
  • PHY 218: Electricity & Magnetism II
  • OPT/PHY 262: EM Theory
  • PHY 227: Thermo. and Statistical Mechanics

One of the following:

  • MTH 281: Fourier Series
  • MTH 282: Intro. Complex Variables
  • MTH 287/OPT 287:  Math Method of Phy and Opt

One of the following:

  • BIO 110: Principles of Biology I
  • BIO 111: Principles of Biology II

One of the following:

  • CHM 131: Chemical Concepts, Systems and Practices I
  • CHM 132: Chemical Concepts, Systems and Practices II
  • CHM 171Q: Honors Quest Organic Chemistry
  • CHM 232: Experimental Molecular Spectroscopy
  • CHM 252: Physical Chemistry II

One advanced course in biological/medical physics

Advanced Courses

The advanced course should be selected in consultation with a member of the Certificate Committee. An appropriate advanced course for each certificate are:

  • PHY 252: Biomedical Ultrasound (medical physics)
  • PHY 253: Biological Physics (biological physics)
  • PHY 513: Magnetic Resonance Imaging: from Spins to Brains (medical and biological physics)
  • PHY 391: Independent Study in Biological or Medical Physics (medical and biological physics)
  • PHY 393: Senior Project (medical and biological physics)

Awarding Certificates

Students who complete one or more advanced course(s) in biological physics will receive the certificate in biological physics. Students who complete one or more advanced course(s) in medical physics will receive the certificate in medical physics. Students who complete one or more advanced course(s) in biological physics and one or more advanced course(s) in medical physics will receive the certificate in biological and medical physics.

Currently, students concentrating or minoring in physics will have already included many of the general physics and mathematics courses in their programs. This essentially reduces the certificate-related requirements for majors to items five, six, and seven listed above.

Some of the required courses have near-equivalents in other departments. Because of this, the Certificate Committee for biological/medical physics has approved substitutions, such as OPT 223 for PHY 237, or ECE 230 for PHY 218.


To apply to the program you should download the application form (PDF) for the certificate in biological or in medical physics.