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BML 815D
The Electromagnetic Life of a Cell

Course overview

The course will cover the molecular interactions of micro- and nanoscale biological structures with electromagnetic fields. In so doing, students will approach bioelectromagnetics from two perspectives: On the one hand, as biomedical researchers they will understand the role of electromagnetic radiation in biology and medicine. On the other hand, as materials scientists and engineers they will explore the capabilities of intracellular structures in fabricating biodegradable devices. Topics listed below will be covered*

  • Electron transfer and energy transfer in photosynthetic systems, proteins and the mitochondria.

  • Fundamentals of the action potential, diseases relating to the action potential.

  • Tumour-treating electric fields which reduce the spread of cancer.

  • Protons, their storage transport in the cell, pH in medicine.

  • Tunnelling nanotubes and Ca2+ communication between cells; gap junctions.

  • Magnetic fields and their influence on the cell, magnetic fields in medicine.

  • Electron flow in DNA and RNA, the use of DNA and RNA in photovoltaic devices.

  • The cytoskeleton and its usage in MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems).

  • Cell movement and motility in the influence of electromagnetic fields.

  • The future of electromagnetic medicine.

*The constraints of time will determine the level of detail used to cover a topic.

Course structure

Course Structure

Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class.

Quizzes will be conducted through short answer type questions during the class itself.

The final exam will test students on topics covered over the entire duration of the semester (i.e. including the first half).

Assignments will include numerical problems, critiquing papers, and MATLAB- or MS Excel-based questions, to be turned in one week after they have been issued. Assignments in the class assume no prior programming knowledge.

A final presentation will consist of a 20-minute-long talk, presented on a research article. The paper MUST be pre-approved by the course instructor atleast one week in advance, and must have been published in a quality journal in the last five years (i.e. after 2017). The presentation itself will be followed by ten minutes of questions from the audience and the course instructor. Students will be graded based on their level of understanding of the material, the level of difficulty presented, and their overall explanation of the topics covered in the paper.


Course Grading Policy

Contribution to final grade

Attendance 10%

Assignments (x5) 4% each, 20% total

Quizzes (x2) 5% each, 10% total

Final presentation 20%

Final exam 40%


NOTE: Audit will be allowed only for students who attend 75% of class (as reflected in the Attendance Sheet at the end of the class).



The course will mainly cover material from a combination of research and review articles, as opposed to books. However, there are several books which will be useful references:

1. Walla, P. J. Modern biophysical chemistry: detection and analysis of biomolecules.  (John Wiley & Sons, 2014).

2. Lakowicz, J. R. Principles of fluorescence spectroscopy.  (Springer, 2006).

3. Berg, H. C. Random walks in biology.  (Princeton University Press, 1993).

4. Kandel, E. R., Schwartz, J. H. & Jessell, T. M. Principles of neural science. 4th ed edn,  xli, 1414 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 28 cm (McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division New York, 2000).

5. Daune, M. Molecular Biophysics: Structures in Motion.  (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need to have a strong mathematics background for this course?'

Although the answer to the above questions is 'no', an open-minded approach to learning fundamental mathematics (at the standard 11/12 level) is required. Previous experience with matrices, curve-fitting and the fundamentals of calculus will help greatly, but are not essential to the course. These topics can be learned as one makes progress.


Do I need to have programming/coding experience before I start this course?

The ability to write basic code in MATLAB or MS Excel (for example, in coding for-loops) will help, but is not essential. Assignments assume no prior programming knowledge.

Do I require a biology background for the class? Should I already have taken biology at the undergraduate (or even high school) level?

Familiarity with basic biochemistry (again, at the standard 11/12 level), including that relating to DNA, the cell membrane and other intracellular structures will help, but is not essential.

Course material

These are slides that the lectures are based on.

Statement on Academic Integrity

Students are expected to uphold the policies of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi with regards to academic integrity. All forms of dishonesty (for example, cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence) are unacceptable at the Institute, and in this course. Any offence will be reported to the Dean (Student Affairs) who will determine the disciplinary action to be taken. Take care to avoid actions which look dubious, and lead to questions about your integrity.

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