Physics of Viruses

Bad Honnef Physics School

Su, 10.09.2023 18:30  –   Fr, 15.09.2023 14:00
Sarah Köster (Göttingen) and Ulrich Schwarz (Heidelberg)
Physikzentrum Bad Honnef
Hauptstr. 5, Hauptstr. 5, 53604 Bad Honnef, Germany

Contact person:
Dr. Victor Gomer (Physikzentrum Bad Honnef),
DPG Association:
Biological Physics (BP)  


Scientific organizers:
Prof. Dr. Sarah Köster (U Göttingen) and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schwarz (U Heidelberg)

September 10 - 15, 2023, Physikzentrum Bad Honnef, Germany
supported by




This Summer School aims at

  • providing a comprehensive view on biological viruses from the viewpoint of physics, bridging all the scales from biomolecular structure through infection of single cells to virus spread in populations
  • introducing students to all relevant concepts and methods from physics, including experimental techniques, mathematical models and data analysis

Format of the Summer School

  • Participants are expected to have finished the introductory courses of the physics curriculum, including a course on statistical physics.
  • Acquaintance with biological systems is not necessarily required, the lectures will introduce the required basics.
  • Speakers will give general introductions to their topics and only then use some time on own current research.
  • All participants are expected to contribute in an active manner to the course, by taking part in the discussions and working sessions. There also will be opportunities to present own work in posters and short talks.

Lecturers and topics include:

  • Reidun Twarock (University of York, GB) - virus architecture and capsid symmetry
  • Michael Hagan (Brandeis University, USA) – thermodynamic theories and simulations of virus assembly
  • Paul van der Schoot (Eindhoven University of Technology, NL) – effect of electrostatic charge
  • Wouter Roos (University of Groningen, NL) - capsid mechanics and binding as studied with the atomic force microscope
  • Ada Cavalcanti-Adam (MPI MF Heidelberg, D) – virus entry and interaction with membranes
  • Petr Chlanda (Heidelberg University, D) – electron microscopy of viruses
  • Beata Turonova (MPI BP Frankfurt, D) - Integrative analysis of cryo electron tomography data, esp. SARS-CoV-2
  • Rommie Amaro (University of California at San Diego, USA) – molecular dynamics of whole viruses, esp. SARS-CoV-2
  • Igor Kulic (Institut Charles Sadron Strasbourg, F) – mobility of surface-attached viruses
  • Eberhard Bodenschatz (MPI DS Göttingen, D) – transmission of airborne viruses
  • Viola Priesemann (MPI DS Göttingen, D) – modelling virus spread in populations
  • Richard Neher (Biozentrum Basel, CH) – evolutionary dynamics of viruses
  • Hendrik Dietz (TU Munich, D) – synthetic viruses and engineering the immune system


Viruses have always fascinated physicists due to their apparent simplicity: a small genome protected by a shell of proteins and sometimes by an additional layer of lipids. Due to their small size (typically below 100 nm), they cannot be seen in a light microscope and their discovery had to wait until the invention of the electron microscope by Ernst Ruska in the 1930s. The crystallography of virus capsids played an essential role during the birth of molecular biology in the 1950s and also led to the first theories on supramolecular complexes. Today viruses are used on a routine basis in biotechnology, for example for gene therapy or vaccination. The emergence of the new virus SARS-CoV-2 in late 2019 challenged mankind to an unprecedented degree, but at the same time, science was able to react to this global threat much more efficiently than ever before in history, including the development of vaccines in record time.

The science of viruses would not have come into existence and would not continue to advance without very important contributions from physics. In this Bad Honnef Physics School, we would like to introduce the participants to some of the highly interesting physics puzzles posed by viruses:

  • How can one build a protective shell from only a few molecules?
  • How can the virus make sure that it assembles in a robust manner in the environment of the host cell?
  • How can the virus maintain the huge counterion pressure of 50 atm inside its capsid?
  • How do viruses cross the many physical barriers in cells and tissue, including the membranes of the host cell?
  • How do viruses escape the attacks of the immune system? And how do they avoid to be physically degraded in the hostile environment outside cells?
  • How do viruses exploit the physics of their environment (turbulent air, surfaces) to spread?
  • How does virus spread play out on the population level? What is the difference between spreading in well-mixed versus heterogeneous populations?
  • How can we predict the evolutionary dynamics of viruses and protect ourselves from future challenges?
  • How can we help our immune system with physics ideas to detect and destroy viruses?

All invited speakers work on answers to these fascinating and important questions and together we will discuss new and exciting ideas how to solve these virus riddles.

More information coming soon...

FEES: 200 € full board and lodging (for DPG* members 100 € )
* The German Physical Society (DPG)