Order of Magnitude Biology

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Date/Time:Monday, 29 Nov 2010 from 4:10 pm to 5:10 pm
Location:Physics, Room 5
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Rob Phillips (California Institute of Technology)

With increasing regularity biological data is reported in the form of quantitative, functional relationships that have traditionally been the lifeblood of physics. In this talk, I will examine the explosion of quantitative data that has arisen in the study of living matter with an emphasis on how such numbers are measured and their possible significance for our understanding of how organisms work. In particular, I will place special emphasis on how order of magnitude reasoning can be used to develop intuition in thinking about cells and their behavior, to uncover biological mechanisms and to explore the physical limits of biological phenomena. These general ideas will be viewed through the prism of several different case studies, all of which center on the question of how cells decide what to become, where to go and what to eat and exploit simple ideas from the physics of random walks.