ICTP-SAIFR Distinguished Public Lecture by William Bialek

Title: The physics of life: How much can we calculate?

Speaker: William Bialek (Princeton University, USA)

Date and time: January 23, 2020   19h30

Venue: Auditorium of IFT-UNESP

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There is no registration form and everyone is welcome to participate.

Abstract:  Theoretical physics is the search for compelling mathematical descriptions of the world around us, and it has been extraordinarily successful.  We have discovered the equations that govern the flow of electrons in a computer chip and the flow of air over an airplane wing, we can describe what happens deep inside the atomic nucleus and the evolution of the universe on the largest scales.  But what about us?  Can we imagine writing equations that describe how our brain makes decisions, or how a single cell develops into a complex organism?  Creating a “physics of life” is a daunting task, but there has been exciting progress.


William Bialek is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton University.  He also is a member of the multidisciplinary Lewis–Sigler Institute and is co-director of the CUNY-Princeton Center for the Physics of Biological Function which actively collaborates with ICTP-SAIFR.

Professor Bialek’s research interests have ranged over a wide variety of theoretical problems at the interface of physics and biology, from the dynamics of individual biological molecules to learning and cognition. Best known for contributions to our understanding of coding and computation in the brain, Bialek and collaborators have shown that aspects of brain function can be described as essentially optimal strategies for adapting to the complex dynamics of the world, making the most of the available signals in the face of fundamental physical constraints and limitations.   More recently he has followed these ideas of optimization into the early events of embryonic development, and the processes by which all cells make decisions about when to read out the information stored in their genes.  His hope is that these diverse biological phenomena may be understandable through some unifying theoretical principles, in the physics tradition. (http://www.princeton.edu/~wbialek/wbialek_bio.html)

The main purpose of ICTP-SAIFR public lectures is to bring outstanding international scientists to discuss and inform the general public about recent physics discoveries. For more information, send email to secretary@ictp-saifr.org .