BQ5: How do living systems work?

The application of physics to biology represents one of the most rapidly growing frontiers of physics. In fact, some of the most interesting unsolved problems in all of science are related to biology and physics such as: How did life arise and does life exist elsewhere in the universe? How are living creatures able to reproduce themselves faithfully over hundreds of millions of years, when the molecular mechanisms related to cellular reproduction are subject to fluctuations related to thermal noise and small numbers of components? How do the tens of thousands of genes and proteins in a cell interact to guide the structure and behavior of a cell or the self-assembly a complex organism? How do the neurons in a brain process information (and more efficiently and in a much smaller volume than any existing electronic computer)?

Duke physicists are excited about these and other biology-related questions, especially because their training in areas such as statistical mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, quantum mechanics, nanoscience, biophysics, and instrumentation provide numerous opportunities to make progress on these questions. Advances in biophysics also have applications to medicine, material science, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, energy science, and other disciplines.

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