Biology and Physics
Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics (SEAS)
Office: Pierce Hall, Rm 324
29 Oxford Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Biological - Our interests in biology are recent, and as a consequence somewhat desultory. A basic question is to understand "how things work" which leads naturally to physiology. We believe that a practical approach requires a comparative study of extremes in biology and offers many beautiful examples of the interconversion of matter, energy and information in non-equilibrium systems. Much recent activity in the field focuses on information: however, our own interests are at one natural interface between physical and biological systems that arises in the context of collective biophysical and biomechanical behavior over a range of scales, from O(nm) to a O(cm). Almost all our work in biology involves both theory and experiments, with the latter done both in our own lab and elsewhere through close collaboration.
Physical - The behavior of matter at the mesoscopic/macroscopic scale is a theme of central interest, particularly in understanding how matter is shaped and how it flows. This leads naturally to questions of the organization and self-organization of matter in space and time as manifest in the rich range of patterns that surround us, from the ripples seen on the surface of a moving liquid to the dynamics of drapery, from the settling of yogurt under its weight to the cracking of drying mud, from the mechanics of plate subduction to the flow of sand on a beach. We use a combination of experiential, experimental, analytical and computational approaches to study these sometimes frivolous and sometimes serious (the difference is often not clear a priori !) questions with the aim (although it is only rarely realized!) of stripping the complexity of the underlying phenomenon to its minimal essence. Indeed a goal is thus get at a qualitative understanding using quantitative methods.