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Georgia Tech Joins the NSF Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network

The Georgia Institute of Technology will receive $1.2 million from the NSF over the next five years to support its network activities.

The Georgia Institute of Technology has become the newest node in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network.

Now, Georgia Tech faculty members and graduate students who have a research interest in the physics of living systems will have the opportunity to interact with national and international peers and collectively help define the field’s research agenda. In the physics of living systems field, researchers explore the most fundamental physical processes that living systems use to perform their functions in dynamic and diverse environments.

Georgia Tech will receive $1.2 million from the NSF over the next five years to support its network activities.

“We are very excited that graduate students at Georgia Tech will be able to easily interact with other scientists in the field, share training strategies and locate potential research collaborations that could influence the physics of living systems field in the future,” Daniel Goldman, a principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Physics, said in a statement.

Additional principal investigators contributing to the network include Georgia Tech School of Physics Assistant Professors Jennifer Curtis and Harold Kim; School of Biology Associate Professor Joshua Weitz, who also holds an adjunct appointment in the School of Physics; and Assistant Professor David Hu, who holds a joint appointment in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Biology. School of Physics Professor Kurt Wiesenfeld will serve as a senior adviser for the network.

Georgia Tech will join 11 U.S. institutions and organizations from Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom in the network, which is also an NSF Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) pilot project. SAVI is an innovative concept designed to foster interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe to solve important societal challenges.

Through this program, Georgia Tech faculty members and graduate students will have the opportunity to visit peers at other research institutions in the network, which will expand their perspectives on how to approach difficult research topics and create collaborative ties between groups at the various sites. To further engage with other researchers in the network, Georgia Tech will host an annual meeting with network members from the other institutions and participate in monthly webinars. In addition, graduate students participating in the network will gain access to career opportunities that they might not have had otherwise.

All of the institutions in the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network stress the use of both theoretical and experimental physics to further the understanding of biology and biomedicine.

“Georgia Tech brings to the network a strength in nonlinear science, with research programs dedicated to combining physical and biological realism at multiple scales within the same study and understanding the interaction between biological systems and their environments,” noted Goldman.

At Georgia Tech, researchers in this field seek to understand how physics can inform questions of structure, function and dynamics in biological systems. They are also studying fundamental physics questions posed by biological systems. At the heart of the effort is a philosophy that many biological systems cannot be understood without study of their interaction with the environment.

Goldman and Hu both work to reveal principles of organism locomotion on complex substrates such as granular media and vertical surfaces. Curtis studies the mechanics of cell-substrate adhesive interaction and Kim measures gene regulation in the context of the physical structure of the chromosome. Weitz studies the evolutionary ecology of microbial and viral communities, and Wiesenfeld uses nonlinear dynamic modeling to investigate the role of stochastic environments in biological systems.

“Recognition by the NSF of our growing program in biophysics is especially welcome,” Paul Houston, dean of the Georgia Tech College of Sciences, said in the release. “Being a node in the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network will allow Georgia Tech to connect our graduate student and faculty research to that of an international group of scientists studying how physics can enhance our understanding of biology.”

Georgia Tech plans to use this program as the foundation to create a hub in the southeastern United States for physics of living systems research, said Goldman.

- The Georgia Institute of Technology contributed to this story

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