Even before Francis Crick used his physics training to help calculate the structure of DNA, physics has informed biology. And while many biophysicists focus on basic research, they increasingly use their discipline to predict the effects of drugs before they are used in animal or human trials.

Scientists also use quantitative and computational biophysics tools to answer questions about the cell: to predict protein folding or observe interactions between biological macromolecules in vivo. But computational tools cannot answer one of the most fiercely debated questions among biophysicists: What is biophysics?

"It's obviously applying physics to biological systems," says Juan Alvarez, associate director of computational chemistry at Wyeth in Cambridge, Mass. "But for me, biophysics is really the thermodynamics and the quantum mechanics and calculating electrostatic interactions."

Definitions aside, biophysics is clearly a field of rising interest as reflected by the Biophysical Society's recent expansion: membership has grown to 7,000...

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