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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some organisms, including humans, have developed eyes so sensitive that they can see a single photon, the dimmest flash allowed by the laws of physics. Are such examples of biological performance reaching the limits of physics the rare exception or the rule? According to William Bialek of Princeton University, many scientists have found examples of such optimal or near-optimal performance. Now Bialek is chairing a session at the March Meeting that focuses on what scientists can learn by exploring optimization as a general principle of biological physics.
"Optimization is not just a curiosity, but potentially a principle from which we can derive and predict the properties of living systems in some detail," says Bialek.
To achieve this, Bialek adds, will require meeting many new experimental and theoretical challenges. On the theoretical side, scientists need new mathematical tools powerful enough to make predictions about what strategies are optimal in the complex, dynamic conditions faced by real organisms in the natural environment. Experimentally, they need model systems to quantitatively test optimization and follow the dynamics of the adaptation, learning or evolutionary processes that can lead to optimal performance. Session H7, "Optimization principles in biological physics" will explore many of these ideas.
The American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing more than 48,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.
Headquartered in College Park, MD, the American Institute of Physics is a not-for-profit membership corporation chartered in New York State in 1931 for the purpose of promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare.