Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

About the PNAS Member Editor
Name Bialek, William
Location Princeton University
Primary Field Physics
 Election Citation
Bialek is a leading exponent of the view that biological systems operate near fundamental physical limits. He uses optimization principles based on this insight to understand how nerve impulses convey information and how spatial patterns form in embryonic development. His work joins physics and biology in novel and productive ways.
 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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