William Bialek

Princeton University


Election Year: 2012
Primary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

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. 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. In earlier work he explored the interface between quantum and classical dynamics in enzymes and in the initial events of photosynthesis. Recently he and his colleagues have shown how the collective states of biological systems -- 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 in quantitative detail with new experimental data. Most generally, he would like to know if there are theoretical principles that have the power and generality that we have come to expect in physics, yet encompass the full complexity and diversity of life's most beautiful phenomena.

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