Biology offers many beautiful examples of the interconversion of matter, energy and information in non-equilibrium systems. Our interests in biology are driven by questions about “how things work” and “why things are” which leads naturally to morphology, physiology, ethology and ecology, couched when possible in an evolutionary framework. We believe that a practical approach requires a comparative study of extremes, using experiments and theory. In morphology and physiology this is naturally manifest in the evolutionary diversity of form and function seen in organisms, locomotory dynamics on land and in water, the physical limits on physiology in such instances as plant movements, swimming etc. In ecology and ethology, we take a pragmatic comparative approach that links experiments and theory in such instances as the behavior of individual organisms, from insects to humans, and the collective behavior of large aggregates, from bacteria to social insects.
Our interests in cognition and ethology are a natural extension of studying the everyday world, but moving from “how it works” to “how it behaves” and “how it learns.” At the individual level, the questions range from material examples such as the geometry, dynamics and planning of the ball throw, to ethereal examples such as the perceptual psychophysics of space. At the collective level, the questions include the functional dynamics of cell aggregates, and the behavior of super-organisms exemplified by social insects.
How can we make sense of biomacromolecular structure, dynamics and cellular function in light of the ability to image and manipulate them? How can we construct effective theories for cellular sensing, motility and behavior that do not drown in molecular details, and are yet are experimentally testable (and falsifiable)? We have explored simple aspects of these questions in such instances as a framework for dynamic instability of microtubules, immunological synapse patterning, cell spreading, cell motion and navigation etc.
Morphogenesis, concerned with the origins of form in biology, is an old question. Shape arises because cells change in number, size, shape, and position; understanding how this actually happens in space and time, and how it is regulated is a natural goal. Our focus has been on the larger scale questions of self-organized cellular and tissue shape, in asking how we should describe it, how we may predict it, and finally, how we may control it.
Understanding how living systems work opens a window into how life harnesses and controls physical and chemical processes to achieve biological function. A comparative view of function across species and genera is often suggestive of optimal ways of processing energy and information at the molecular, cellular, organ and organismal level. Of particular interest are questions associated with the physiology, ethology and evolution of autonomous movement. We are also interested in the breakdown of normal physiology associated with diseases, e.g. sickle cell anemia.