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International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) PhD in Physics and Chemistry of Biological Systems
International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA)

PhD in Physics and Chemistry of Biological Systems

4 Years


Full time

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Understanding the working principles of living organisms and soft matter systems from the basic equations ruling the dynamics of atoms and molecules was considered science fiction until a few years ago, and biophysics was almost unanimously considered a battlefield for phenomenologists. Nowadays, applying rigorous physics to biological processes is no longer a dream. What’s more, it is becoming clear that the next few decades will be the golden age for the “theory of life”, which is expected to undergo the same accelerating growth experienced by other physics disciplines in the past century.

Young scientists attracted by the opportunity to develop and apply concepts, models and methods to explore the still uncharted territory of quantitative biology can take up this challenge in our Ph.D. programme in Physics and Chemistry of Biological Systems.

This Ph.D. programme has a highly interdisciplinary character and offers advanced, research-oriented training in theoretical and computational topics at the interface of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. The faculty includes members from the SISSA Physics and Mathematics areas, the CNR-IOM Democritos center and ICTP, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics. Students are typically admitted to the Ph.D. programme after taking a written and oral exam, though non-EU applicants may be pre-selected based exclusively on academic qualifications.

During the November-April period of the first year, students attend a set of advanced courses, which include:

  • Statistical Mechanics, Numerical Methods in Computational Physics
  • System Biology, Statistics, and Probability
  • Introduction to Biochemistry, Computational Biochemistry
  • Advanced Sampling Techniques
  • Molecular Dynamics
  • Statistical Mechanics of Polymers
  • Mechanical Aspects of Cell Biology and Bioinformatics
  • Introduction to Quantum Chemistry
  • Simulations in Molecular Medicine

At the end of the courses, each first-year student takes on a supervised research project. The choice of research topic and supervisor is arranged with the Ph.D. faculty. The Ph.D. programme is typically completed in about 4 years. The progress of each Ph.D. student is monitored with an official annual assessment (progress report), and the final Ph.D. exam is based on a written dissertation that is defended orally in front of a board of international experts.

The most recent placements after Ph.D. at SISSA:

  • Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA
  • Max Planck Institute for Biophysics, Frankfurt, Germany
  • Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, Germany
  • National Institute of Health, Bethesda, USA
  • Temple University, Philadelphia, USA
  • University of Edinburgh, UK
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA
  • University of Vienna, Austria


About the School


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