William Bialek, Princeton University: General Science Talk

Sitting in a quiet room, we can hear sounds that cause our eardrums to vibrate by less than the diameter of an atom. When bacteria have to decide if they are swimming in the right direction to find more food, they count every single molecule that arrives at their surface. In these examples, and many more, evolution has selected for mechanisms that operate near the limits of what is allowed by the laws of physics. This lecture will give a tour of these beautiful phenomena, from microscopic events inside a developing embryo to our own perception and decision making. While there are many ways to build a biological system that might work, there are many fewer ways to build one that can approach the physical limits. Perhaps, out of its complexity, life emerges as simpler, and more perfect, than we imagined.