Molecular Biophysics

The Molecular Biophysics Predoctoral Training Program
Learn More

Want to learn more information about UVa Biomedical Sciences graduate programs and for the on-line application.

View Now!

The Molecular Biophysics Predoctoral Training Program is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences designed to provide students with a strong foundation in molecular biophysics, i.e. the use of approaches derived from chemistry and physics to study biological questions. This program has a strong focus in the areas of structural biology, membrane biology, cellular biophysics, and computational biology. The goal of the training program is to supplement and enhance the comprehensive educationalgoals of the doctoral programs in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Virginia with specific biophysics-oriented research and training activities. Students can pursue research in one of the mancy facets of molecular biophysics, use state-of-the-art instrumentation, and carry out cutting edge research. our goal through this training program is to provide graduate students with an understanding of the principles of biophysicsand how these can be applied to gain insights into critical biomedical questions.

Training Program

The Predoctoral Molecular Biophysics Training Program is oriented toward providing a strong biophysics-related training environment that supplements the basic degree requirements and goals of the degree-granting departments within the University of Virginia.  To this end, the Training Program sponsors a regular seminar series focused on biophysics, a bi-weekly journal club for students focused on biophysics, and specific course offerings in the area of biophysics. All of these provide an environment for extensive collaboration and consultation among students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty with an interest in biophysics. Independent research is at the core of the program.

During the first two years, students complete formal course requirements and rotate through three different laboratories.  Thesis labs and mentors, and the degree programs are chosen in April of the first year.  While many of the Molecular Biophysics students receive their Ph.D.s in Biophysics, students from other degree programs are also eligible if the thesis mentor is a member of the Molecular Biophysics Training Program. The course and preliminary exam requirements differ slightly among the degree programs, but in all cases, students prepare and defend a detailed research proposal at the end of the second year. Successful completion of this process qualifies the student to advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

At the completion of their first year of graduate school, students are eligible to apply for support from the Molecular Biophysics Training Program. This is a competitive process that selects students for stipend and tuition support from the program for 1-2 years. A travel allowance is also provided which aids in students to attend scientific conferences where they present a paper.


Students take a select group of core courses in the first semester designed to provide a solid foundation in cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, and gene regulation.   An individualized course work program is then developed to meet the specific interests of the student and the course requirements of the degree program in which the student will be affiliated.  Students supported by the Molecular Biophysics Training Program are required to enroll in the BIOP5060 course entitled “Molecular Physiology: From Molecular Machines to Biological Information Processing”. This course provides a foundation in biophysical methods, making it possible for students to begin using these methods to address biological problems. Other biophysics related courses available to students include BIOP8020: Advanced protein Crystallographys;, BIOP8030: Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy of Macromolecules, PHY8130: Structure and Function of Biological Membranes, BIOC5080: Computer Analysis of DNA and Protein Sequences, and BIMS8320: General Physiology.

Students perform three rotations in laboratories of their choice during their first year in graduate school.   These rotations provide an opportunity to become familiar with specific laboratories and research areas while performing short research projects.  Students typically choose to begin their rotations during the summer prior to the beginning of courses so that they can become acquainted with research opportunities and acclimatized to Charlottesville before classes begin.  After completion of their rotations at the end of the first year of study, students then choose a research lab and thesis advisor.
The research programs of faculty participants in the Molecular Biophysics Training Program are nationally and internationally renowned.   They are well-funded from both federal and private sources, providing student research activities with excellent financial and technological support.  Laboratories are well-equipped with modern and sophisticated instrumentation including high-end equipment for X-ray diffraction, NMR spectroscopy (500, 3 600, 800 MHz spectrometers), cryo-electron microscopy, EPR spectroscopy, single particle tracking, electrophysiology, high throughput sequencing, and computation.

The Molecular Biophysics Training program is composed of a highly diverse group of 27 faculty with primary appointments in seven basic science departments in the School of Medicine and two science departments in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.  These faculty have proven track records of research productivity, collegiality, and training of predoctoral students.

Administration of the Molecular Biophysics Training Program, including selection of students to receive stipend and tuition support from the program is carried out by the Executive Committee (John Bushweller,  Zygmunt DerewedaRobert Nakamoto,  David Cafiso, and Stefan Bekiranov).

Qualified pre-doctoral trainees are chosen from among students who have entered the University of Virginia graduate program in Biomedical Sciences ( Students must be carrying  out a thesis project appropriate to molecular biophysics with a mentor who is a member of the training program. Trainees are selected in a competitive process from a pool of eligible nominees drawn from the following groups:

  • Second and third year students , who have completed the core curriculum, completed the three lab rotations, and have chosen to carry out biophysics-related research in the lab of a mentor on the training grant faculty.
  • Medical students who are either part of the Medical Scientist Training Program [MSTP], or have completed the 2-year basic science curriculum and who now wish to obtain a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree carrying out research in molecular biophysics.

Awards are made on the basis of commitment to biophysics-related research, evidence of promise as a productive scientist, and performance in the core curriculum and research rotations.

All students supported by the Molecular Biophysics Training Program will receive a stipend that is competitive with that offered by the other institutions. Tuition, fees, health insurance and travel costs to scientific meetings are also covered.

Contact Information

Dr. John Bushweller
Director, Molecular Biophysics Training Program
University of Virginia School of Medicine
PO Box 800736
Charlottesville, VA 22908 Jordan Hall, Room 4233
e-mail: 434-243-6409