PoL – Physics of Life | Vision and Research Avenues

Vision and Research Avenues

Our Strategy: Understand biological processes as physical processes – focus on key biological questions that call for a physics perspective

We break down the complex task of understanding the principles of dynamic organization of the living state of matter into six Research Avenues (RAs) that focus on distinct scientific goals, and that support and stimulate each other.

Research Avenue 1

Guided Mechanochemical Self-Organization

RA1 wants to unravel the principles by which mechanics and biochemical coupled in morphogenesis. We aim to reveal how the associated modules of self-organization are guided by physical cues and upstream signaling pathways.

Research Avenue 2

Compartmentalization of Living Matter

RA2 wants to understand the extent to which the principles of phase separation and phase transitions help in understanding how cells modulate their biochemistry. We aim to have a general understanding of the ways in which phase separation and cellular compartments emerge from physical chemistry and the interaction of individual molecules.

Research Avenue 3

Active Molecular Systems

RA3 objective is to elucidate collective spatiotemporal behaviors of active molecular systems, and to reveal the principles by which active molecular assemblies give rise to dynamic intracellular processes. We aim to obtain a general understanding of the principles by which collectives of active molecules generate intracellular dynamics.

Research Avenue 4

Fluxes, Fluctuations and the Emergence of Form

RA4 will reveal physical principles of organization that underlie the living state of matter. This research avenue will stimulate and aid RA1–3 by integrating the discoveries of RA1–3 in a more general context. We will bring concepts of non-equilibrium statistical physics and of nonlinear dynamics to the study of living matter.

Research Avenue 5

Scientific Computing and Systems Microscopy

RA5 will provide the required advances in computational approaches and interactive interrogation of biological systems. We will develop methodologies that enable quantitative predictions of spatiotemporal dynamics, interactively perturb samples, and test theories using a novel generation of computer simulation methods integrated with immersive, smart microscopes.

Research Avenue 6

Engineering Control

RA6 will develop complementary means to engineer and modulate living systems at the scales of molecules, cells and tissues, to exert exquisitely accurate and flexible control that will empower the investigation of biophysical mechanism.

Six Research Avenues (RA), shown as differently coloured bars: RA 1-3 are crossed with RA 4-6 to illustrate the interdisciplinary cooperation.

The first three RAs aim to identify physical principles that govern the dynamic organization of active living matter in space and time at the scale of tissues (RA1), cells (RA2), and molecules (RA3). Research in RAs 1–3 also involves the testing of theoretical predictions by using computation, perturbation, and control.

This is facilitated by the enabling RAs 4–6, where we will integrate our findings to develop a generic physical theory of living matter (RA4), test our insights using advanced techniques and approaches in scientific computing and systems microscopy (RA5), and demonstrate our understanding by engineering the dynamic organization of living matter (RA6).