Earlier this Fall, I was part of the University’s “DUKTalks” event — rather like TED talks but (i) featuring speakers from UO, and (ii) without the vast audience. It was a fun and interesting program, with fifteen minute talks on medieval runes, Facebook, and more. My talk, “The Physics of Life,” was about (unsurprisingly) biophysics.
I started out with a movie of glowing bacteria vigorously swimming in the intestine of a larval zebrafish, a movie from my lab, where we look at things like this to try to uncover the principles underlying microbial colonization of animals (including humans). I then asked the question: Why would a physicist be watching bacteria in fish guts? This led to the main themes of the talk: that essentially every biological phenomenon, from the twisting of DNA to the crawling of immune cells, has physical underpinnings; that systems like cell membranes and microbial communities provide fascinating examples of the utility of biophysical perspectives; that there’s more to life than genes (for example, the self-assembly of lipids into membranes, governed just by physical forces); and that an exhilarating aspect of twenty-first century science is its cross-disciplinary nature. I found crafting a 15 minute talk that’s dramatic enough to capture the attention of the general public, but that also has some substance to it, to be challenging. Overall, I thought it went quite well, and people I talked to at the reception afterwards seemed remarkably effervescent about it.
The DUKtalks are all available on-line. Mine is at the top of this post — I haven’t seen it, and I can’t stand to watch myself. The others are at http://duktalks.uoregon.edu/ .