Introducing the Italian Society of Pure and Applied Biophysics – SIBPA

Cristiano Viappiani, Carlo Musio

The “Società Italiana di Biofisica Pura e Applicata” – Italian Society of Pure and Applied Biophysics (SIBPA), is a non-profit scientific association founded in 1973.

In keeping with its mission, over the years SIBPA has steadily increased its efforts in the dissemination and promotion of biophysics, in the organization of outreach initiatives, and in the support of young biophysicists.

Biophysics is the science that applies the theoretical approaches and the experimental methods of physics to understand how biological systems work. Biophysics has been instrumental in understanding how life’s molecules are made and function, how cell constituents move and work, and how complex systems in our bodies (brain, circulation, immune system) behave. Biophysics is an exciting and lively scientific field in which scientists from many disciplines, including physics, use their skills to explore and develop new tools to understand how biology works, throughout life. An important contribution of biophysicists to modern biology is the perspective that biological processes can be understood from the interactions among and within the constituent molecules, and thus the behavior of biological systems can be predicted from physical principles.

Interdisciplinary by nature, the Society gathers scientists from the whole country, working in biophysics either at university laboratories or research institutions such as the National Research Council (CNR) or the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).

SIBPA is the oldest biophysics association in Italy and is the only Italian biophysical society to have a national representation in IUPAB (International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics, and in EBSA (European Biophysical Societies Association,

The Society is administered by an Executive Board, made up of the President, eight members elected by the Assembly and an additional Councilor in the person of the last President in office before the current one.

The website of the Society is located at: According to its statute, the mission of SIBPA comprises the following tasks:

• promote entities with the same purposes and operating in the third sector;
• carry out specific scientific and technical studies on issues of considerable importance for biophysics in general;
• promote and encourage education, training and updating initiatives of the individual associated operators;
• promote and encourage dissemination initiatives aimed at increasing the knowledge of biophysics, both in Italy and abroad;
• promote meetings, conferences and seminars of a technical-scientific nature, on problems relating to biophysics;
• promote the connection between research and development in the field of biophysics, at Italian and foreign universities and research bodies;
• foster the development of a network of relationships with other associations of a scientific nature relating to biophysics and other professional categories operating in the biophysics field;
• establish scholarships and assign prizes to young researchers in the field of research in biophysics.

1 A (very) brief history of SIBPA

SIBPA was founded in 1973 in Parma, based on an incorporation deed signed by a group of young scientists: Paolo Cavatorta, Pier Raimondo Crippa, Roberto Favilla, Giorgio Montagnoli and Arnaldo Vecli. SIBPA rooted its origins from the tireless and inspired action of Antonio Borsellino (at the time Full Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Genova) who was in 1961 the co-founder of the International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) which held the “first” International Congress on Biophysics in Stockholm, Sweden, from July 31st to August 4th 1961, on the initiative of the International Union of Experimental and Theoretical Physics. This was the first meeting gathering biophysicists from around the world. The Stockholm Congress topics included: 1) mathematical modeling of biophysical phenomena; 2) new methods in biophysics (laser technology and others); 3) membrane biophysics and 4) vital problems of the molecular bases of virus replication.

Indeed, as early as 1959, Professor Antonino Borsellino organized a series of “Conferences on Biophysics and Biochemistry” in Genoa and, in 1963, the first Italian National Congress of Biophysics in Rome. In 1960 Borsellino also promoted the creation of the Italian Society for Pure and Applied Biophysics, which was finally established only in 1973 with Borsellino as its first President.

In the same years, Borsellino gathered and boosted scientific realities spread throughout the national territory, mostly afferent to the National Group of Cybernetics and Biophysics (GNCB), Gruppo Nazionale Cibernetica e Biofisica, of the Italian National Research Council (CNR).

The GNCB-CNR was a fruitful initiative (heir in turn of the forerunner CNR “Impresa Cibernetica” born in the early '60s), established at the end of '60s, to promote and fund interdisciplinary research. It grouped young and senior scientists belonging to the newborn CNR Italian Institutions working on cybernetics and biophysics, such as the CNR Lab of Cybernetics and Biophysics (dir. Guido Palmieri) in Camogli (GE), the CNR Lab of Cybernetics (dir. Eduardo Caianiello) in Arco Felice (NA), the Lab for the Study of the physical properties of Biomolecules and Cells (dir. Alessandro Checcucci) in Pisa, and academic centers like the Institute of Physics of the University of Parma (Arnaldo Vecli), the CISE of the University of Milan (Ivo De Lotto). Other institutions were affiliated along the years to GNCB which was dismissed at the end of the '90s; among brilliant GNCB directors we like to remember Carlo Frediani and Arnaldo Vecli.

The main topics introduced and supported by GNCB included the elaboration of the information in living organisms, the cybernetics of artificial systems, the physical properties of the biological systems, the bio-cybernetic models and the human-machine interactions. All those research themes represent still today the bricks of modern biophysics and the interdisciplinary scientific research.

To stress the continuity of aims and action between GNCB and SIBPA, we emphasize that the last GNCB national congress was held on 1972 in Casciana Terme (Pisa) and the first SIBPA National meeting was held in Camogli (Genova, fig. 1), where Antonio Borsellino was elected as the first SIBPA President in 1973. The names of the Presidents and the Councilors of SIBPA are reported in the SIBPA web site at:

2 Educational initiatives

Since its first edition in 1997, the International School of Pure and Applied Biophysics, held yearly in Venice in the magnificent location of Palazzo Franchetti and organized jointly with the Venetian Institute for Sciences, Humanities and Arts (IVSLA), has been one of the main events for SIBPA.

The School has become an international asset of the Society, and every year it gathers graduate students and young postdoctoral fellows coming from different countries. Each year the school proposes a state-of-the-art description of topics at the forefront of current biophysical research, with lectures delivered by renown scientists and, in some cases, proposing also practical, hands-on laboratory experiences. A fruitful collaboration with companies and with consortia of scientists on EC-funded projects has helped keeping the level of the school very high. The palette of the themes explored by the School is very broad as can be easily appreciated by looking at the titles of the last four editions: “Time resolved methods in biophysics”, “Intracellular ion channels and transporters in plant and animal cells”, “Emerging Tools in Biomechanics: from tissues down to single molecules”, “Applications of X-rays and Neutron Scattering in Biology”.

SIBPA is also involved in the organization of other educational events. These include the International School on Nanoscale Optical Microscopy, which is also held in Venice at the IVSLA premises, and the NIC@IIT advanced practical workshop/school, held on a yearly basis at the Italian Institute of Technology headquarters in Genova. Besides these schools held on a regular basis, SIBPA collaborates also to the organization of other single edition schools, an example of which is the school “Molecule in (ter) action: from in vitro to zebrafish” recently held in Palermo.

SIBPA regularly offers merit-based scholarships to young scientists for participation in conferences organized by EBSA, the American Biophysical Society and for participation in the biennial SIBPA congress. It is worth noting that the number of applications is always quite high and unfortunately sometimes it exceeds the capability of the budget of the Society.

3 Scientific meetings

Every other year, SIBPA organizes a National Congress, whose topics range from molecular biophysics to cellular and sensory biophysics. Frontier themes and applications such as nanobiophysics and advanced microscopies have been recently added. In order to expand the network of interactions, the Society tries to select invited and keynote speakers also outside its members, a strategy that has led to the involvement of new members in the activities of the society and fostered scientific collaborations. Accordingly, extracting from the SIBPA congress programs of the past twenty years, we like to mention the following outstanding scientists (apologies for involuntary forgetfulness): Stefan Hell (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014), James Barber, Carlos Bustamante, Ernesto Carafoli, Franco Conti, Enrico Di Cera, Alberto Diaspro, Enrico Gratton, Georg Nagel, Gerd Ulrich Nienhaus, Maria Garcia-Parajo, and Tullio Pozzan.

This year the XXV edition of the National Congress will be held in Parma, and is part of the events organized within Parma 2020, Italian Capital of Culture. The Congress, originally planned to take place from July 7 to July 9 in the Aula Magna of the University of Parma, has been delayed due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The new dates will be announced soon.

SIBPA fosters interaction with other scientific societies in the organization of scientific meetings, workshops, and schools. The Society undertakes actions to favor joint meetings, in the belief that cross fertilization between related scientific areas can boost scientific progress. In this perspective, the 2020 SIBPA congress is organized jointly with the Italian Photobiology Society, with the goal of facilitating interactions between scientists working in these strictly related areas.

4 International partnerships

SIBPA is actively involved in the organization of the EBSA meetings, also by supporting participation of young scientists through several fellowships that are assigned on a merit-based ground. SIBPA contributes also to the ordinary management of EBSA through the participation of one of his members as a counselor of the EBSA Executive Committee. Among those, Giuliano Colombetti in the past and Mauro Dalla Serra, currently. Alberto Diaspro served as EBSA President for the term 2009-2013.

SIBPA contributes to the management of the IUPAB activities through the presence of one of its members in the IUPAB Council (Giuseppe Zucchelli) and the delegate of the CNR adhering body (Michael Pusch). The interaction of SIBPA with IUPAB is also lively, as demonstrated by the involvement of SIBPA members in the organization of the next in 20th IUPAB Congress to be held in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, October 26 - 30, 2020, and the satellite educational event “Applications of X-Rays and Neutron Scattering in Biology” in São Paulo.

The Society is part of the steering committee of the Regional Biophysics Conference, a biannual international conference gathering scientists from biophysical societies of several countries from central-eastern Europe. The 2020 edition will be held in Pecs (Hungary)

SIBPA is also engaged in other international scientific events such as the recent meeting “Membrane Biophysics of Exo-Endocytosis: from Model Systems to Cells”, held in Nice, France, and the workshop “Nanoengineering for Mechanobiology”, held yearly in Camogli, Italy.

5 National partnerships

SIBPA is a stable scientific co-organizer of the “Convegno Nazionale Sensori”, CNS (four editions until now) together with other national societies, such as Associazione Italiana dei Gruppi di Misure Elettriche ed Elettroniche (GMEE), Associazione Italiana dei Gruppi di Misure Meccaniche e Termiche (GMMT), l’Associazione Italiana Sensori e Microsistemi (AISEM), Associazione italiana “Ambient Assisted Living” (AitAAL), Società Italiana di Ottica e Fotonica (SIOF), Società Chimica Italiana (SCI), Società Italiana di FotoBiologia (SIFB), Associazione Società Italiana di Elettronica (SIE) and Associazione NanoItaly.

SIBPA plays an active role in the steering committee of the conference series Biophysics@Rome held in Rome, this year in its third edition.

SIBPA has been often involved in the organization of international conferences from Italian organizers, just to mention the most important: Workshop Advances in Brillouin Light Scattering, Perugia, 2018; 4th Workshop on Expression, Structure and Function of Membrane Proteins, Firenze, 2015.

6 Expanding the collaborations of SIBPA – the agreement with the Italian Physical Society

Given its small size, SIBPA aims at increasing the number and the extent of collaborations with other scientific societies that are active on similar or related fields. The most recent agreement signed by SIBPA is with the Italian Physical Society (SIF), a framework that means to increase interactions between the two societies and improve the communication in the mutual interest of their members. The agreement intends to encourage the scientific contacts between members of the two societies, and the planning of common initiatives. Special attention is given to the activities involving young members and the wish is that joint projects devoted to them be realized, also through assignment of specific fellowships.

7 SIBPA awards

During its national congress, SIBPA awards prizes to students for the best Master’s Degree and Doctoral thesis in the biophysical field. The prize for the best Master’s Degree Thesis is named in memory of Dr. Gianfranco Menestrina, an outstanding biophysicist who died prematurely in 2004, at the time heading the CNR Biophysics Institute in Trento. He made fundamental contributions in the field of membrane permeabilization by pore-forming molecules. The prize for the best Ph.D. Thesis is named in memory of Professor Antonio Borsellino, one of the founders of Italian Biophysics, first president of SIBPA and founder of the Institute of Cybernetics and biophysics of CNR in Camogli, Italy.

Finally, since 2016, during the biennial congress the prize “Marina Diana Mercurio - SIBPA”, supported by the Associazione Marina Diana Mercurio and its president, Settimo Termini, is awarded to a scientist who has obtained outstanding scientific contributions by following innovative paths that overcome disciplinary divisions and are chosen according to “a human use of human beings” (citing Norbert Wiener). The awardees of the past two editions of the prizes are: the chemical biophysicist Enrico Di Cera (St. Louis University), the historian of cybernetics Leone Montagnini (Biblioteche di Roma) and the biophysicist Francesco Lenci (CNR Institute of Biophysics, Pisa).

8 SIBPA Publications

Since 2007, the selected proceedings of the SIBPA congresses were published in special issues of JCR peer-reviewed journals. The 2006, 2008, and 2010 editions have been published in the European Biophysics Journal (Springer), while the remaining editions until 2018 have appeared in Biophysical Chemistry (Elsevier). The complete list of the special issues of the last SIBPA Congresses is available at:

Finally, a monthly newsletter collects the initiatives organized by SIBPA and provides members with useful information about positions in biophysics available in Italy and abroad, upcoming meetings and schools, and other announcements that may be of interest to scientists working in the field.

9 Outreach initiatives

Among its duties, SIBPA is actively involved in outreach activities. The Biophysics Week is one of them, a yearly initiative of the American Biophysical Society, now in its fifth edition, intended to disseminate the concepts behind research in biophysics. SIBPA is a partner society of the Biophysics Week (fig. 2), and in collaboration with CNR it coordinates events held across the country and organized by scientists working in the field, not necessarily members of the society.

Among outreach activities, SIBPA has consolidated – starting from the former collaborations in 2013 and 2015 editions – its involvement in the Science Festival of Genova, becoming an official cultural partner since 2016. Projects presented by SIBPA have mostly concentrated on the proposal of lectures, and/or series of conferences under a common theme, delivered by eminent scientists, with the aim of introducing the biophysical sciences to a general audience of non-expert, ordinary citizens.