Starting up in September 2020, we're proud to introduce our monthly Physics of Life Seminar Series. We'll be hosting top speakers from across the globe, presenting on all topics from fundamental theory to cutting edge experiments. At least initially, seminars will be hosted remotely and everyone is welcome, whether you are a member of College or not. If you're interested, please sign up to our network mailing list for regular updates on speakers; our full schedule is shown below, and you can find details about how to watch live by clicking on the event links.  Recordings of previous talks can be found in the video playlist below. 

If you'd like to suggest a speaker, please do so using this form.

Recorded Seminars

Prof Margaret Gardel

Mechanical Homeostasis in the Actin Cytoskeleton

My lab studies the design principles of cytoskeletal materials the drive cellular morphogenesis, with a focus on contractile machinery in adherent cells. In addition to force generation, a key feature of these materials are distributed force sensors which allow for rapid assembly, adaptation, repair and disintegration. Here I will describe how optogenetic control of RhoA GTPase is a powerful and versatile force spectroscopy approach of cytoskeletal assemblies and its recent use to probe repair response in actomyosin stress fibers. I will also describe our recent identification of 18 proteins from the zyxin, paxillin, Tes and Enigma families with mechanosensitive LIM (Lin11, Isl- 1 & Mec-3) domains that bind exclusively to mechanically stressed actin filaments. Our results suggest that the evolutionary emergence of contractile F-actin machinery coincided with, or required, proteins that could report on the stresses present there to maintain homeostasis of actively stressed networks.

Mechanical Homeostasis in the Actin Cytoskeleton

Prof Margaret Gardel

Mechanical Homeostasis in the Actin Cytoskeleton

Mechanical Homeostasis in the Actin Cytoskeleton

My lab studies the design principles of cytoskeletal materials the drive cellular morphogenesis, with a focus on contractile machinery in adherent cells. In addition to force generation, a key feature of these materials are distributed force sensors which allow for rapid assembly, adaptation, repair and disintegration. Here I will describe how optogenetic control of RhoA GTPase is a powerful and versatile force spectroscopy approach of cytoskeletal assemblies and its recent use to probe repair response in actomyosin stress fibers. I will also describe our recent identification of 18 proteins from the zyxin, paxillin, Tes and Enigma families with mechanosensitive LIM (Lin11, Isl- 1 & Mec-3) domains that bind exclusively to mechanically stressed actin filaments. Our results suggest that the evolutionary emergence of contractile F-actin machinery coincided with, or required, proteins that could report on the stresses present there to maintain homeostasis of actively stressed networks.

Is there Universality in Biology?

Prof Nigel Goldenfeld

Is there Universality in Biology?

Is there Universality in Biology?

It is sometimes said that there are two reasons why physics is so successful as a science. One is that it deals with very simple problems. The other is that it attempts to account only for universal aspects of systems at a desired level of description, with lower level phenomena subsumed into a small number of adjustable parameters. It is a widespread belief that this approach seems unlikely to be useful in biology, which is intimidatingly complex, where “everything has an exception”, and where there are a huge number of undetermined parameters.

I will try to argue, nonetheless, that there are important, experimentally-testable aspects of biology that exhibit universality, and should be amenable to being tackled from a physics perspective. My suggestion is that this can lead to useful new insights into the existence and universal characteristics of living systems. I will try to justify this point of view by contrasting the goals and practices of the field of condensed matter physics with materials science, and then by extension, the goals and practices of the newly emerging field of “Physics of Living Systems” with biology.

Neural network like collective dynamics in molecules

Prof Arvind Murugan

Neural network like collective dynamics in molecules

Neural network like collective dynamics in molecules

Neural networks can learn and recognize subtle correlations in high dimensional inputs. However, neural networks are simply many-body systems with strong non-linearities and disordered interactions. Hence, many-body physical systems with similar interactions should be able to show neural network-like behavior. Here we show neural network-like behavior in the nucleation dynamics of promiscuously interacting molecules with multiple stable crystalline phases. Using a combination of theory and experiments, we show how the physics of the system dictates relationships between the difficulty of the pattern recognition task solved, time taken and accuracy. This work shows that high dimensional pattern recognition and learning are not special to software algorithms but can be achieved by the collective dynamics of sufficiently disordered molecular systems.