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Prof. Rob Phillips (CalTech)
Prof. Rob Phillips (CalTech)

Prof. Rob Phillips (CalTech)

Schrodinger’s What is Life? at 75: The Physical Aspects of the Living Cell Revisited

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Time & Location

14 Oct 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm AEDT

Theory of Living Systems Webinar

About the Event


2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the publication of  Erwin Schrodinger's ``What is Life?'', a short book hailed by Roger Penrose as ``among the most influential scientific writings'’ of the 20th century'’. In this talk, I will briefly review the long argument made by Schrodinger as he mused on how the laws of physics could help us understand  ``the events in space and time which takes place within the spatial boundary of a living organism.''   Though often chronicled for its influence on some of the titans of the rise of molecular biology,  my talk takes a different tack. I pivot to the idea of Schrodinger’s  classic as a timeless manifesto.  Rather than a dated historical curiosity, I argue that ``What is Life?'' is  full of stylish approaches to understanding the mysterious living world around us and instead, might be viewed as a call to arms to tackle the unfinished business of the scientific study of living matter.  To make those points, I will focus on two key case studies from my own laboratory that pursue several of the key threads laid out in Schrodinger’s book: i) how does the control of hereditary information buried within the genome look from the point of view of physics and ii) how do the spatiotemporal structures (mitotic spindle, organelles, tissues, etc.) so familiar in biology arise as the playing out of underlying laws of non equilibrium physics?

About the speaker

Rob Phillips is currently the Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). His research group focuses on the development of quantitative, theoretical models to describe a broad range of biological phenomena. They use these models to guide their experimental efforts, where they perform precision measurements to explore the validity of their predictions.


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