May 18, 2009

Biology and Physics: how one hand washes the other

Today at Soft Active Materials there were a lot of interesting talks, and after each session (morning and afternoon) there was a discussion panel.

For the afternoon panel, the following question was posed: what does Physics have to offer Biology, and vice versa? The question did not elicit much discussion, perhaps because it is so philosophical. So that is the question of the day -- what can Physics and Biology contribute to each other? I am not talking about in areas such as biophysics. I am referring to, say, the marriage of genomics and how cells/organisms respond to pressure gradients.

One concern was the nature of funding agencies. Another comment suggested that physics can provide a mimimal set of criterion and parameterization for understanding biological systems. My opinion is that physics can contribute two things of value: a set of tools to tackle hard and potentially intractable problems, and a way to look at old problems anew. This second point is of no small consequence -- paradigm shifts occur this way, and is extraordinarily valuable to the advancement of technological applications.

So, what do other people think? Please let me know in the comments section. Otherwise, good first day, and look forward to tommorrow.