Biophysics: Searching for Principles

Princeton University Press
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Interactions between the fields of physics and biology reach back over a century, and some of the most significant developments in biology--from the discovery of DNA's structure to imaging of the human brain--have involved collaboration across this disciplinary boundary. For a new generation of physicists, the phenomena of life pose exciting challenges to physics itself, and biophysics has emerged as an important subfield of this discipline. Here, William Bialek provides the first graduate-level introduction to biophysics aimed at physics students.

Bialek begins by exploring how photon counting in vision offers important lessons about the opportunities for quantitative, physics-style experiments on diverse biological phenomena. He draws from these lessons three general physical principles--the importance of noise, the need to understand the extraordinary performance of living systems without appealing to finely tuned parameters, and the critical role of the representation and flow of information in the business of life. Bialek then applies these principles to a broad range of phenomena, including the control of gene expression, perception and memory, protein folding, the mechanics of the inner ear, the dynamics of biochemical reactions, and pattern formation in developing embryos.

Featuring numerous problems and exercises throughout, Biophysics emphasizes the unifying power of abstract physical principles to motivate new and novel experiments on biological systems.

  • Covers a range of biological phenomena from the physicist's perspective
  • Features 200 problems
  • Draws on statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and related mathematical concepts
  • Includes an annotated bibliography and detailed appendixes
  • Instructor's manual (available only to teachers)
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About the author

William Bialek is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton University, where he is also a member of the multidisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and is Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the coauthor of Spikes: Exploring the Neural Code.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 17, 2012
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Pages
640
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ISBN
9781400845576
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Biology
Science / Life Sciences / Biophysics
Science / Physics / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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"This is science writing as wonder and as inspiration." —The Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

From one of the most influential scientists of our time, a dazzling exploration of the hidden laws that govern the life cycle of everything from plants and animals to the cities we live in.

Visionary physicist Geoffrey West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, the science of emergent systems and networks. The term “complexity” can be misleading, however, because what makes West’s discoveries so beautiful is that he has found an underlying simplicity that unites the seemingly complex and diverse phenomena of living systems, including our bodies, our cities and our businesses.

Fascinated by aging and mortality, West applied the rigor of a physicist to the biological question of why we live as long as we do and no longer. The result was astonishing, and changed science: West found that despite the riotous diversity in mammals, they are all, to a large degree, scaled versions of each other. If you know the size of a mammal, you can use scaling laws to learn everything from how much food it eats per day, what its heart-rate is, how long it will take to mature, its lifespan, and so on. Furthermore, the efficiency of the mammal’s circulatory systems scales up precisely based on weight: if you compare a mouse, a human and an elephant on a logarithmic graph, you find with every doubling of average weight, a species gets 25% more efficient—and lives 25% longer. Fundamentally, he has proven, the issue has to do with the fractal geometry of the networks that supply energy and remove waste from the organism’s body.

West’s work has been game-changing for biologists, but then he made the even bolder move of exploring his work’s applicability. Cities, too, are constellations of networks and laws of scalability relate with eerie precision to them. Recently, West has applied his revolutionary work to the business world. This investigation has led to powerful insights into why some companies thrive while others fail. The implications of these discoveries are far-reaching, and are just beginning to be explored. Scale is a thrilling scientific adventure story about the elemental natural laws that bind us together in simple but profound ways. Through the brilliant mind of Geoffrey West, we can envision how cities, companies and biological life alike are dancing to the same simple, powerful tune.
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