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What Biochemists and Biophysicists Do

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes such as cell development, growth, and heredity.


Biochemists and biophysicists typically do the following:

Biochemists and biophysicists also use electron microscopes, lasers, and other laboratory instruments and equipment to carry out their research. Biochemists and biophysicists use advanced technologies to conduct scientific experiments and analysis. For example, they use computer modeling software to determine the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other molecules. Biochemists and biophysicists involved in biotechnology research use chemical enzymes to synthesize recombinant DNA.  

Most biochemists and biophysicists work on teams. Research projects are often interdisciplinary, and biochemists and biophysicists frequently work with experts in other fields, such as physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering.

Biochemists and biophysicists work in basic and applied research. Basic research is conducted without any immediately known application; the goal is simply to expand human knowledge. Applied research is directed toward solving a particular problem.

Biochemists involved in basic research may study the genetic mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases. Others may study the evolution of plants and animals to understand how genetic traits are carried through successive generations.

Biophysicists may conduct basic research to learn how nerve cells communicate or how proteins work. Biochemists and biophysicists who conduct basic research typically must submit written grant proposals to colleges and universities, private foundations, and the federal government to get the money they need for their research.

Biochemists and biophysicists who do applied research develop products and processes that improve our lives. For example, in medicine, biochemists and biophysicists develop tests used to detect diseases, genetic disorders, and other illnesses. They also develop new drugs and medications, such as those used to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

Applied research in biochemistry and biophysics has many uses outside of medicine. In agriculture, biochemists and biophysicists develop genetically engineered crops that are more resistant to drought, disease, insects, and other afflictions. Biochemists and biophysicists also develop alternative fuels, such as biofuels—renewable energy sources from plants. In addition, they develop ways to protect the environment and clean up pollution.

Many people with a biochemistry background become professors and teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition