The Meter Stick of Life

Mon September 21st 2015, 2:00 - 3:00pm
Event Sponsor
Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics
Varian Physics - Room 355
Robert Laughlin

This colloquium will be given by Nobel laureate Professor Robert Laughlin of the Stanford Physics Department.

Professor Laughlin's abstract:

I invoke physical principles to address the question of how living things might use reaction-diffusion to measure out and regulate the many thousands of lengths required to make their body parts and internal organs. I argue that two ideas have been missing. One is that oscillation is necessary to achieve the necessary design stability and plasticity. The other is that the system must be tuned to criticality to stabilize the propagation velocity, thus enabling clocks to function as meter sticks. The broader significance is twofold: First, a fundamental piece of the machinery of life is probably invisible to present-day biochemical methods because they are too slow. Second, the simplicity of growth and form identified a century ago by D'Arcy Thompson is probably a symptom of biological engineering strategies, not primitive law.

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