We are looking for motivated PhD and Master students. For details, please read here.
Molecular biology may provide a material basis (the building blocks) of life (causa materialis), but physics has to explain why things happen (causa efficiens). Our dream is to understand biological function based on physical principles or - in other words - to derive biological function from physics.
One key idea is to start from the 2nd law of thermodynamics in Einstein's formulation, as suggested by Konrad Kaufmann, and apply it to hydrated interfaces. In this way different biological functions are derived from looking at the 2nd law for different thermodynamic states.
What makes the cell an unit? What orchestrates it or how does one end know about the other? We have demonstrated that linear and nonlinear acoustic pulses can propagate at hydrated interfaces (e.g. lipid monolayers) and can be regulated by the thermodynamic state. Importantly, we look at this pulses as the result of the first derivatives in the entropy potential (Einstein 1910). Such pulses have to exist in biology as well. We propose they form the foundation of integration and communication in biology from cells, cell assemblies, organs up to the brain. In this sense these pulses would represent a physical origin of Neuroscience. See in particular references 44, 45, 55 and 48 (further publications on pulses 34, 47,49, 56)
The control of catalytic activity by the thermodynamic state (fluctuations or - in other words -the second derivatives) is a further step, which integrates the main pillar of Biochemistry: Enzymes. State changes - isotherm and/or adiabatic - can regulate enzymatic activity (Kaufmann 1996). The latter can and will feed back on the state for instance by chemistry (e.g. by changing lipids). We will study the role of this integration of Biochemistry in a thermodynamic picture for the physical foundation the cell using Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS).
The described integration of state, pulses and biochemistry opens the door to study adaptation, growth and structure formation of biological systems. If a certain thermodynamic state (critical?) is favored, i.e. optimizes the system in some sense, external perturbations will trigger processes, that drive the system back to this state, i.e. the system adapts.
We will test this hypothesis on living systems and study its role in addiction and withdrawal. Further, we will investigate the formation of cellular networks and how growth and connectivity relates to the existence of pulses and its coupling to enzymatic activity via state. This ultimately should test whether these ideas hold also for a physical foundation of the brain.
Albert Einstein, 1946 (Autobiographical Notes)
(English translation by Paul Arthur Schilpp).