Physicists have made major contributions to biology, both technological and conceptual. In addition to contributing technical tools such as the electron microscope, phase contrast microscopy and optical tweezers, physical approaches have led to seminal discoveries including the structure of DNA and the molecular mechanism of heredity, and the ionic basis of action potentials in nerve cells.

This half-day symposium will focus on exciting new physical concepts applied in a broad range of biological fields including neuroscience, evolution, multicellularity and development.

October 10th 2014
Department of Physics, Yale University

Room SPL 59

1:20-1:30 pm — Introductory Remarks

Paul Tipton
Chair Department of Physics, Yale University

1:30-2:05 pm — On growth and form: geometry, physics and biology.

L Mahadevan (Short Bio)
Departments of Applied Mathematics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Physics, Harvard University

The diversity of living form led Darwin to exclaim that ” it is enough to drive the sanest man mad”. 150 years later, how far have we come in quantifying this variety? (How) can we understand and predict it? (How) might we control it? Motivated by biological observations on different scales from molecules, cells and tissues, I will show how a combination of biological and physical experiments, mathematical models and computations allow us to begin unraveling the physical basis for morphogenesis. I will also try and indicate how these pan-disciplinary problems enrich their roots, creating new questions in mathematics, physics and biology.

2:15-2:50 pm — Physics of active cellular matter.

Frank J├╝licher (Short Bio)
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden, Germany

Living matter is highly dynamic and organizes in complex patterns and spatial structures. A fundamental problem in biology is to understand how the interaction of many different molecules and genes gives rise to a fascinating diversity of patterns and morphologies. Many dynamic processes in cells are generated with the help of active processes such as those mediated by motor molecules. Molecular motors are driven by the chemical energy of a fuel and generate movements and forces on molecular scales. Such active processes give rise to unconventional mechanical behaviors and spontenaous movements of gel-like materials in the cell. Such active gels play a key role in many dynamic processes such as cell division and cell locomotion. Spatial structures in cells can also be organized with the help of phase separation of different components. Co-existing liquid phases can provide distinct environments with different chemistry. Spatial patterns of molecular organization can be formed by the interplay of phase separation and chemical reactions. I will discuss examples of cellular systems which make use of such physical principles to generate spatial structures and dynamic behaviors that play an important role for cellular function.

3:00-3:30 pm — Coffee Break

3:30-4:05 pm — The biophysics of adaptive neural coding.

Adrienne Fairhall (Short Bio)
Department of Physiology & Biophysics, University of Washington

Neurons are capable of expressing a wide variety of ion channels that shape their function. We show that the dynamics of single neurons in the cortex lead to adaptive information representation on multiple timescales. We will discuss how the properties of single neurons allow them to efficiently encode the wide range of timescales in natural stimuli, and how these properties can influence information transmission through neural networks.

4:15-4:50 pm — Can evolution be understood quantitatively?

Daniel Fisher (Short Bio)
Department of Applied Physics, Stanford University

The basic laws of evolution have been known for more than a century and there is overwhelming evidence for the facts of evolution. Yet little is understood quantitatively about the dynamical processes that drive evolution: by physicists’ standards the theory of evolution is far from fully-fledged. Huge advances in DNA sequencing technology and laboratory experiments have enabled direct observations of evolution in action and, together with theoretical developments, opened up great opportunities for dramatically advancing our understanding. This talk will focus on framing questions and the challenges to be faced, along with recent progress on addressing some of these.

5:00-5:45 pm — Meet the Speakers Reception

Location: Third Floor Lounge in Sloane Physics Lab


Supported by the The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences, The Provost’s Office and the Department of Physics.

Organized by Tom Appelquist, Physics; Thierry Emonet, Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology; Joe Howard, Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry; Nick Read, Physics.

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