A physical and quantitative understanding of the processes of life and living systems must describe biological functions in different contexts and across a wide range of systems. Through this Physics Frontiers Centers award the Center for the Physics of Biological Function (CPBF) will probe the unifying physical principles that govern the emergence of essential biological functions. A joint effort of Princeton University and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the CPBF will bring together theorists and experimentalists to study biological functions in a quantitative and systematic manner across a range of diverse systems. From cells to organisms to groups of organisms the CPBF will explore functional behavior, the mechanics of biological networks, the impacts of limited physical information within systems, and how biological systems set efficient parameters. The CPBF will foster the training and development of a new and diverse generation of scientists at the interface of physics and biology. It will expand successful existing interdisciplinary programs for undergraduates and graduate courses, and develop a dedicated undergraduate summer school. In addition, the center will host seminars and symposia that will connect CPBF with the larger scientific community and will engage in public lectures in New York City.

The CPBF research activities are organized around four themes, each of which will involve close collaboration between theory and experiment. The first focuses on animal behavior from the development of organisms to locomotion. The second considers the emergence of collective phenomena in groups of molecules, genes, neurons, and organisms. The third theme studies the role of physical limits on information transfer and processing in the genetic code, neural circuits, cellular sensors, and genetic and biochemical networks. The fourth theme examines the mechanisms through which biological systems arrive at a particular operating point from protein number to adaptive immunity.

This Physics Frontiers Centers award is co-funded by the Division of Physics and the Division of Chemistry within the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and by the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences and the Division of Emerging Frontiers within the Directorate for Biological Sciences as part of Understanding the Brain activities.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Physics (PHY)
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Jean Allen
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Princeton University
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