Living matter: how it senses, moves, and eats

Living matter constitutes a small special part of all matter in the universe, with hallmarks of complexity, locomotion, growth, and interactions between its parts. Physics has always played a major part in unravelling this complexity, most noticeably starting with Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 book ‘What is life?’. Over the last couple of decades this effort has developed into a lively research area in which theory and computation are heavily used to make biology more quantitative and predictive.

Professor Robert Endres started his career in physics in Germany and in the US, investigating charge transport in one-dimensional conductors and macromolecules such as DNA. Fascinated by biological complexity and the considerable pioneer spirit required, he then moved on to conduct research in biology to work on individual cells and cell collectives. His working hypothesis has been that living matter, i.e. biology, is part of physics, and while physics cannot yet explain the origins of biology, it can describe biology.

In his inaugural lecture he will discuss his own path at the interface of physics and biology, and the challenges encountered when crossing country and scientific boundaries. His research questions include how cells sense and process information, in order to move toward more favourable conditions (or away from toxic substances) and to engulf extracellular objects. Engulfment allows cells either to eat (if a single cell organism) or to remove and destroy other cells (if an immune cell). These questions become particularly fascinating when cells communicate over long distances to organise themselves, leading to exotic emergent behaviour. Often, he works on these fundamental problems in close collaboration with experimentalists. Now, more than a decade since becoming an independent group leader, he will also lay out his vision for the future, shifting focus from individuals to collectives and using artificial intelligence to transform our ability to learn from complex data or simulations.

Please join Professor Robert Endres to discuss fascinating living matter!

Robert Endres is Professor of Systems Biology in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. His research group addresses fundamental problems in cell sensing and signalling in collaboration with biologists. In 2016, he was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, and in 2018 he was awarded with the Tom Duke Lecture prize of the Institute of Physics. To promote quantitative approaches in biology, he published an undergraduate textbook, designed courses in systems biology, and organised cutting-edge conferences such as the Physics of Emergent Behaviour series. Since 2019, he is a Director of the Physics-of-Life Network-of-Excellence at Imperial College.

Before starting at Imperial College in 2007, Robert was a postdoctoral researcher with Prof. Ned Wingreen in the Molecular Biology Department at Princeton University, where he deciphered the remarkable signalling properties of bacterial chemotaxis, and atomistically predicted protein-DNA binding sites. In 2002, he obtained a PhD in Physics from the University of California at Davis. His work, conducted in the group of Prof. Daniel Cox, dealt with charge transfer in biomolecules, in particular in DNA. In 1999 he obtained a Master’s degree in Physics from the University of Göttingen in Germany. Robert also spent the academic year 1996/1997 at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

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