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Physics of Genes 1: Nucleic Acids

Module PH2277

This module handbook serves to describe contents, learning outcome, methods and examination type as well as linking to current dates for courses and module examination in the respective sections.

Module version of WS 2018/9

There are historic module descriptions of this module. A module description is valid until replaced by a newer one.

Whether the module’s courses are offered during a specific semester is listed in the section Courses, Learning and Teaching Methods and Literature below.

available module versions
SS 2022WS 2019/20WS 2018/9

Basic Information

PH2277 is a semester module in German or English language at which is offered in winter semester.

This module description is valid from WS 2018/9 to WS 2021/2.

If not stated otherwise for export to a non-physics program the student workload is given in the following table.

Total workloadContact hoursCredits (ECTS)
150 h 60 h 5 CP

Responsible coordinator of the module PH2277 in the version of WS 2018/9 was Friedrich Simmel.

Content, Learning Outcome and Preconditions


- Historical introduction - The chemical structure of DNA and RNA - DNA and RNA thermodynamics - Conformational changes - Nucleic acids as polymers - Nucleic acids as polyelectrolytes - DNA topology - Analytical procedures - Interaction of proteins with DNA - Biogenesis of DNA and RNA

Learning Outcome

After successful completion of the module, students are able to:

  • Formulate the essential biophysical properties of nucleic acids, apply them to specific problems and understand their use in biotechnology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology 
  • follow presentations dealing with biophysical properties of nucleic acids and participate in the corresponding scientific discussions
  • independently educate themselves through literature research, based on the foundations laid in the lecture
  • carry out simple calculations on DNA structure and thermodynamics, also with the help of computer programs


No preconditions in addition to the requirements for the Master’s program in Physics.

Basic knowledge of biophysics and biochemistry is helpful.

Courses, Learning and Teaching Methods and Literature

Learning and Teaching Methods

The module consists of a lecture and exercise classes. In the thematically structured lecture the learning content will be presented.
The students will be involved in scientific discussions and ecouraged to apply their knowledge to specific problems. In the exercises, the learning content is deepened and practiced by discussing specific problems of nucleic
acid biophysics and corresponding example calculations. Moreover, in the exercises special literature will be
read and discussed in detail.


The lecture will be held via Powerpoint presentation, on occasion supported by blackboard. A script for the lecture will be provided via moodle. Tasks and technical literature are given out for the exercises.


  • A. Vologodskii: Biophysics of DNA, Cambridge University Press, (2015)
  • V.A. Bloomfield, D.M. Crothers, I. Tinoco J.E. Hearst, D.E. Wemmer, P.A. Killman, D.H. Turner: Nucleic Acids: Structures, Properties, and Functions, University Science Books, (2000)
  • A.D. Bates & A. Maxwell: DNA Topology, Oxford University Press, (2005)
  • R. Phillips, J. Kondev, J. Theriot, H. Garcia: Physical Biology of the Cell, Taylor & Francis, (2012)

Further specific literature (publications) will be provided and discussed in the lecture and in the accompanying exercises

Module Exam

Description of exams and course work

There will be an oral exam of 25 minutes duration. Therein the achievement of the competencies given in section learning outcome is tested exemplarily at least to the given cognition level using comprehension questions and sample calculations.

For example an assignment in the exam might be:

  • Describe quantitatively the mechanical properties of single- and double-stranded DNA
  • Which quantities are used to describe the topology of DNA molecules?
  • Determine the secondary structure of a given (short) nucleic acid sequence
  • How do you calculate the melting point of a given DNA sequence?

In the exam no learning aids are permitted.

Exam Repetition

The exam may be repeated at the end of the semester.

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