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Difference Between Biochemist & Biophysicist

Living systems are the focus of research for both biochemists and biophysicists. The difference between these two professions reflects the difference between how chemicals react and the physical properties underlying chemical reactivity.

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Comparing Biochemists to Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists often work together researching the properties of molecules in living organisms. The difference comes from research approach. A biochemist studies the chemical properties of a compound such as how it reacts with water. A biophysicist studies the physical properties of a compound such as how much force can be applied to it before the structure is no longer functional.

Job Title Education Required Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Biochemists Doctorate degree $50,355 8%
Biophysicists Doctorate degree $63,835 8%

Sources: *Salary.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics

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Responsibilities of Biochemists vs. Biophysicists

Both biochemists and biophysicists work in a laboratory setting using very specialized equipment that can analyze microscopic molecules. A biochemist may be involved with synthesizing new compounds while a biophysicist might evaluate the structural characteristics of the new compound. An example problem both scientists might address is the muscle atrophy of astronauts who are in space for a long time. A biochemist would study the nutritional requirements of muscles and work to enhance the way proteins in muscles are produced, while a biophysicist would study the force of gravity on muscles and work to enhance the way proteins already in muscles are strengthened.

Biochemists

Biochemists work primarily in sterile research laboratories at universities, government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, or with private companies. The range of research topics is wide and can apply to medicine, genetics, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and even manufacturing. Most biochemical research is at the cellular level and investigates how molecules react chemically to maintain life. In the medical field, biochemists may conduct and develop tests that detect and treat infections, diseases or genetic disorders. They may also research how newly developed medications interact to determine if it is safe to use on patients. A promising new area of research in agriculture involves biofuels and enzymes which will convert waste into a sustainable source of energy to replace fossil fuels.

Job responsibilities of biochemists include:

  • Writing grants to fund research
  • Developing chemical solutions for problems through experimentation
  • Using florescent microscopes to isolate target molecules
  • Documenting experimental results
  • Communicating with doctors or other professionals

Biophysicists

Research by biophysicists concentrates on how the physical structure of a protein molecule, cell, bone or entire organism determines the effectiveness of its function. They adapt techniques developed by physicists for larger scale analysis of living organisms. Example technologies include nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, and electron microscopy. The methods used by biophysicists depend on mathematical and computer modeling skills. Applications of research in this area are useful in medicine and genetics. Ways that living organisms use energy such as management of signaling in the nervous system is also a topic of research that has applications for biotechnology.

Job responsibilities of biophysicists include:

  • Designing experiments to determine how a specific shape functions in a living system
  • Obtaining funding from federal agencies, private foundations or within a research organization
  • Evaluating data using statistical analysis
  • Modeling the physical shape of living components using three-dimensional software
  • Collaborating with a team of professionals

Related Careers

Biological engineers perform similar tasks as biochemists, but they can also manage the production of biomedical supplies. If your interests align more with working on the physical needs of individual clients, a job as a physical therapist who evaluates muscle strength and mobility similar to a biophysicist might be better suited for you.

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