Carnegie Mellon University
April 02, 2017

William Bialek to Present 2017 Buhl Lecture "The Physics of Life: How Much Can We Calculate?"

By Jocelyn Duffy

William Bialek (credit: International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste)William Bialek (credit: International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste)

PITTSBURGH— Princeton University physicist William Bialek will present Carnegie Mellon University’s annual Buhl Lecture at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, April 13 in the Mellon Institute Auditorium, 4400 Fifth Ave. in Oakland. His lecture, “The Physics of Life: How Much Can We Calculate,” is free and open to the public.

In his lecture, Bialek, a theoretical physicist interested in the phenomena of life, will discuss his thoughts on how physics has been able to create accurate mathematical descriptions of the physical world, helping us to not only understand what we see, but predict what will happen in places we have never looked before. He will address questions including: are there limits to this predictive power, particularly when applied to the complex phenomena of life? And are we missing some deep principles that will bring the living world under the predictive domain of physics? Bialek also will offer reflections on how physicists might be able to approach the complex and diverse phenomena of the living world and develop new theories to help explain the world around us.

Bialek, the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton and Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is known for his work emphasizing the approach of biological systems to the fundamental physical limits on their performance. Most recently, he and his collaborators have shown how the collective states of biological systems, such as the activity in a network of neurons or the flight directions in a flock of birds, can be described using ideas from statistical physics, connecting them in quantitative detail with new experimental data. 

Bialek has been a member of the Princeton faculty since 2001. He has received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton, and recently published a textbook, Biophysics: Searching for Principles. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Physical Society, he received the 2013 Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience from the Society for Neuroscience.

The Buhl Lecture is funded under the auspices of the Buhl Professorship in Theoretical Physics and sponsored by the Department of Physics. The Buhl Foundation established the professorship in 1961 to support an outstanding theoretical scientist who would both impact theoretical research and help establish directions for experimental investigations. Fred Gilman has held this chair since 1995. He revived the Buhl Lecture in 1996, bringing a series of internationally recognized scientists to Carnegie Mellon for public lectures. 

Buhl Lecture Poster