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“Physics meets Biology” meeting: fruitful interdisciplinary exchanges

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Published on Tuesday, 15 January 2019

What happens when physicists meet biologists? A dense and rich event with exciting presentations and lively discussions. This is how a recent initiative from the Physics and Materials Science Research Unit (PHYMS) and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LSCB) from the University of Luxembourg started with the first edition of the “Physics meets Biology” meeting.

This internal event, co-organised by Prof. Massimiliano Esposito (PHYMS) and Dr. Alexander Skupin (LCSB), successfully brought together around 60 participants from the University of Luxembourg and 6 internationally renown external speakers on 13 and 14 December 2018 on Campus Belval. It was the first institute-wide occasion to initiate interdisciplinary exchanges between the two fields in Luxembourg and develop the synergy and interconnections. “Biology presents major challenges for Physics. New concepts and approaches must be developed which may lead to groundbreaking discoveries”, said Prof. Massimiliano Esposito and Dr. Alexander Skupin complemented this by “Mechanistic insights in biology have to be supported by methods from physics”.  

Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko (PHYMS) and Prof. Massimiliano Esposito (PHYMS)

These two days gave an excellent overview of the diversity of topics linked with both disciplines, starting with a keynote presentation by Prof. Sui Huang (ISB, Seattle) entitled “Why Theory is Important in the Era of Big Data Medicine:  From Personalized Medicine to Non-linear Dynamics in Cancer Treatment”. His presentation clearly demonstrated how a combination of both disciplines, using techniques from cell biology, animal models and computational modelling, can advance our understanding of cancer development and therapy.

Prof. Antonio del Sol (LCSB) and Dr Alexander Skupin (LCSB)

“Applications of physics meets biology reach far beyond cancer research. Physics has the potential to contribute to the description and our understanding of any aspect of the healthy or diseased human body,” says Dr. Alex Skupin, principle investigator at the LCSB. This was also reflected in the diverse scientific programme with presentations ranging for instance from “Stem Cell Systems Biology in the Single Cell Era”, “The dynamic world of microbial colloids” to “Energy and Information processing at the cellular level”. Prof. Alexandre Tkatchenko highlighted already common bridges in his presentation entitled “Developing and Using Quantum Mechanics to Understand Interactions in Biological Systems”. In addition, this first edition was also a valuable introduction to biophysical research for PhD students.

Invited speaker Prof. Jordi Garcia Ojalvo (Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, Spain)

The event ended with a building bridges brainstorming session and positive feedback from international speakers who were impressed by the research quality and rather unique interdisciplinary potential. Very promising ideas have been discussed to reinforce activities at the boundary between the two disciplines as initially planned in the new four-year plan period 2018-2021 for the University of Luxembourg.