Two major themes currently lie at the frontier of research in condensed matter theory. One is the idea articulated by Nobel Laureate Phillip Anderson that “More is Different”, in other words, that the consequence of interactions at one scale leads to emergent principles that apply to matter at a larger scale. The second relates to the effect of nonequilibrium fluctuations, which remains poorly understood because the statistical mechanics of Gibbs and Boltzmann applies only to systems at thermal equilibrium, and not those where time- reversal symmetry is broken by energy fluxes or driving forces, either at the level of individual particles or the system as a whole.
Biology is a place where these themes converge. Inside the cell, DNA and proteins form a complex interaction network in which nonlinear, out-of equilibrium feedbacks exist at all levels. These include genetic switches that respond to environmental stimuli and whose on/off state can survive many generations of cell division. Thus single-celled organisms may inherit acquired traits – a "Lamarckian heresy" among geneticists until relatively recently. Meanwhile, organisms large and small assemble into populations that compete through stochastic evolutionary forces, recognisable to physicists as far-from-equilibrium diffusion processes. Somewhere in between lies active matter, a growing area of soft matter physics, in which alongside conventional interaction forces the constituent particles each consume energy to perform mechanical work. Examples include the flocking and phase separation of self- propelled organisms such as swimming algae or bacteria. Synthetic active systems have also been developed, allowing rigorous experimental study of the underlying principles.
In recent years, many condensed matter and statistical physicists have begun to investigate these and other topics. By seeing things with a fresh eye, and in particular being alert to the huge role played by noise effects, these physicists have brought many new insights and methods of analysis, and asked many new questions about the building blocks of life. As an emerging area in physics worldwide, this meeting will be both intellectually stimulating and furthermore strengthen links between the UK and international research communities in this field.
The 4th annual Higgs Symposium to be held on the 6-7 January 2016 is therefore dedicated to discussing the physical principles of biological and active systems. This meeting is co-funded by the the Institute of Physics and the Higgs Centre and it aims to bring together international experts to present the state-of-the-art knowledge and discuss and forge new ideas in this field.
In addition to a series of keynote presentations, this meeting will feature three topical focus sessions at which contributions from participants will be solicited.
Please visit the dedicated conference website http://ppbio.iopconfs.org for more information and to register / submit an abstract.