Biophysicists apply tools and concepts from physics to the understanding of living systems at the molecular level. This field promises to yield answers to important questions about the structure, dynamics, function, and interactions of biological molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids. New instruments are allowing researchers to measure distances much shorter than the wavelength of light (nanometers) and forces as small as one trillionth of the force required to hold an apple against Earth's gravity (piconewtons). At JILA, biophysics researchers conduct major research projects in molecular biophysics, single-molecule biophysics, and biological force standards. They are looking for answers to the following questions:
- How bright and photostable can we make fluorescent proteins?
- Can we tailor the physical properties of “supernatural” fluorescent proteins for new imaging techniques?
- Can we use femtosecond x-ray pulses to make molecular movies of protein behavior and chemical reactions?
- Will a better understanding of the folding of the telomerase RNA pseudoknot lead to better treatments for cancer?
- How are the outer protein coats of viruses (capsids) produced inside infected cells? How does new viral RNA get inside them?
- How do motor proteins change chemical energy into physical movement?
- How do the structure and behavior of membrane proteins affect how they function inside a cell?