A program that focuses on the scientific study of the effects of light energy on living organisms, the manufacture and processing of luminescence by organisms, and the uses of light in biological research. Includes instruction in bioluminescence, chronobiology, photomedicine, environmental photobiology, organic photochemistry, photomorphogenesis, photoreceptors and photosensitization, molecular mechanics of photosynthesis, phototechnology, vision, ultraviolet radiation, radiation physics, and spectral research methods.

Photobiologists work to understand how light affects living organisms.

Light exposure has effects that can be either beneficial or detrimental to the organisms and systems that encounter it. Photobiologists study the behavior of wave particles known as photons as they relate to living things. They can be found in many disciplines, from animal behavior to environmental law. With researchers helping to develop UV-resistant supersunscreens, naturalists observing the circadian rhythms of amphibians, opticians diagnosing colorblindness, clinicians administering light therapy, and more, photobiology has a bigger scope than might be immediately apparent.

There are thirteen focal areas within photobiology, and each has its own set of related disciplines. Scientists usually specialize in one of these areas. Some study bioluminescent organisms like glowing sea slugs or expose plants to different kinds of light to study their reactive movements. Others study how eyes perceive and absorb light or interpret implicit data contained in light wavelengths. Photobiologists of all kinds tend to work alongside other specialists like geneticists or ecologists in order to achieve their goals. The work is highly specialized, and you have to really know your way around a photon wave before anyone will let you try to genetically engineer a bioluminescent sheep (yes, someone did this).

Work in photobiology may include...

  • Studying the mechanics of light and its effects
  • Finding ways to harness the benefits of light
  • Designing protective solutions fo the harmful effects of light
  • Developing tools and techniques for research
  • Conducting and presenting research

Jobs in photobiology are certainly not common, but they do exist, mostly in a research context. Private, government, or university labs may hire photobiologists and their peers to participate in ongoing research.

Experts with an advanced degree may teach the subject or work as consultants. Some photobiologists collaborate with physicists, mathematicians, and engineers to produce and test new techniques or devices.

Photobiology is niche enough that it's rarely taught in depth at the undergraduate level, but you can prepare for advanced study with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, or botany. If they're available, courses in optics cover a lot of similar ground and can provide some interesting context. A Bachelor's degree in a related subject can be a great jumping off point for graduate study, which most photobiologists eventually pursue. Masters and Doctoral students must select a specific discipline to determine their path of study, but they have the opportunity to explore, research, and interact with others in the field, which is a valuable experience.

Light is one of the most complex phenomena we know of, and so much of that knowledge is due to the work of photobiologists. If you're fascinated by the world of non-ionizing radiation, discovering photobiology could be an amazing journey.

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