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Geoffrey West
The Surprising Mathematics of life and civilization
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In late 1995 Mike Simmons, then-SFI vice president, introduced me to Jim Brown. At that time I was overseeing the high energy physics program at Los Alamos National Laboratory while Brown, who had recently moved to the University of New Mexico’s biology department, was developing an ecology program at SFI. Serendipitously we had both been thinking about a longstanding problem in biology, namely the origin of so-called “quarterpower allometric scaling laws.” I will elaborate on what this means later but, roughly speaking, it refers to the surprising observation that across the entire spectrum of life, almost all physiological variables and life-history events scale with size in a remarkably simple, systematic, and predictable fashion. Sandwiched between quarks, Higgs, strings, and dark matter, I had been struggling with developing a physics-inspired network theory for the origin of these scaling laws, while Brown and his then-student, Brian Enquist (now at the University of Arizona), had been speculating that nutrient transportation through the bloodstream was a key ingredient.

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№28_2, 2014№28, 2014№27, 2013№26, 2012№25, 2011
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