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Mixing Physics and Biology: Can the Art of Simplification Help to Unravel the Complexities of Life and Provide a Better Understanding of Life and Provide a Better Understanding of Cancer?

Dr Zeev Bomzon

Centre for Micro-Photonics, Faculty of Engineering and Industrial Science, Swinburne University of Technology.

Friday, 15th June 2007, 3.30PM, EN101, Ground floor, Engineering Building, Hawthorn.

Physics is the discipline concerned with the discovery and understanding of the fundamental laws which govern matter, energy , space and time, and biology is the study of life. The approaches of scientists in these two fields are fundamentally different. Traditionally, physicists have dealt with “simple” systems in which the number of different interacting entities is limited. As a result, physicists have become the masters of simplification, seeking to understand systems through a few fundamental laws that can generally be expressed as mathematical equations. In contrast, biological systems are extremely complex as they involve many different interacting entities. Therefore it is difficult to describe biological systems from first principles. Consequently biologists often rely on complicated diagrams to describe the multitude of interactions that occur within living organisms. Traditionally, the differences between biology and physics have posed a barrier between the two disciplines. However, recent years have seen a surge in multidisciplinary research in which biologists, physicists and engineers all work together on a single project. In this talk I will discuss my experiences as a physicist involved in such multidisciplinary research. I will show some examples of physics can be successfully applied to biological systems. In particular I will discuss studies into the mechanical properties of cells, and explain why cell mechanics is relevant to understanding cancer and other diseases.

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