EPB is Harvard University's newest track for PhD training. It is
a unique, inter-departmental track that sponsored jointly by the
Department of Physics, the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences
(DEAS), and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB),
all under the auspices of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and
Sciences (GSAS). Students may enter through any one of these three
Host Departments. The EPB class that matriculates in fall 2006 will
be its first, and thus will play a pioneering role in shaping its
EPB has emerged through the efforts of a particular group of faculty,
the recently self-assembled daVinci Group,
that share a particular vision of the future of scientific progress
at the interface between biology and the physical sciences. For the
past 50-100 years, biology at the molecular and cellular levels has
been viewed primarily as the aggregate sum of a large number of individual
events and the interactions amongst them. The daVinci Group envisions
that the next round of fundamental advances in the life sciences will
emerge by viewing biological processes in a very different way: as
manifestations of the fundamental principles that apply to all types
of systems non-biological and biological. By this view, life can be
described not in terms of collections of diverse specific molecular
and cellular details but in a more unifying and fundamental way as
the manifestation and implementation of basic physical laws and universal
principles of engineering and physics. It may not be too extreme to
suggest that the next major breakthrough, analogous to the discovery
and elucidation of the structure of DNA, will come from this new approach.
This new approach can be described as "viewing living systems
through the lens of physics and engineering".
The goal of EPB is to create a new generation of young scientists
who will probe biological processes through the lens of engineering
and physics. It is widely understood that many important future
advances in science will arise at the interfaces among different
fields and, in particular, at the interface between the physical
sciences and the life scientists. At present, most scientists work
in only one of these two areas and rely upon collaborations with
colleagues in the other area to complement their own expertise.
EPB seeks to train young scientists who work comfortably, and simultaneously,
in both areas.
Defining the Interface
From an engineering/physics perspective, a particular phenomenon may reflect the operation of chemical, electrical and/or mechanical processes. EPB will develop young scientists who can investigate how these basic physical effects have been brought together in living systems, with primary emphasis on events at smaller scales, micron-level and below, and including cellular, sub-cellular, macromolecular and single molecule processes. Questions of interest fall into three general categories.
(I) Mechanics and Dynamics. How do the mechanical properties of biological macromolecules, macromolecular complexes and ensembles (chromosomes, membranes and structures) and cellular surfaces influence their function? What are the mechanical forces that underlie the motion of macromolecules and their complexes and ensembles within cells? What promotes motion of individual cells? How are such forces generated and how are they appropriately directed?
(II) Patterns and Collective Phenomena. How are spatial and temporal patterns determined within cells and among cells in a group? What are the bases for numerical specification in biological systems? How does collective behavior arise in aggregates? What is an effective /efficient way of describing and regulating such behaviors? What are the roles of thermal and athermal sources of fluctuations in these situations?
(III) Transport, Signaling and Communication. How does information flow within cellular compartments, between compartments, within and among macromolecules and their ensembles and structures, and among cells? What are the relative roles of diffusion vs. active transport and of chemical signaling vs. mechanical linkage? What are the roles of mechanochemical signaling networks in motility, patterning and behavior? How is robustness built into the design of such networks?
The EPB Program will be small and highly selective. About five students will be admitted each year. Students may enter from an undergraduate background in either the biological sciences or the physical sciences. An effort will be made to include students from different scientific backgrounds.
EPB is designed to be a small, intensive program that features and fosters extensive interactions among students and faculty. Core training components will be rigorous, but will be combined with the programmatic flexibility as needed to accommodate the needs of students with diverse backgrounds. Every aspect of the program will encourage innovative, imaginative and unconventional approaches to physical biology.
EPB is located on the Cambridge campus
Harvard University is a diverse and bustling environment with many component parts. EPB is based in the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the traditional core of the University, which includes the undergraduate College and the many associated Departments, all of which are located on the Cambridge campus. FAS science Departments include: Physics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB), Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), and a "mega-Department", the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS). The primary intellectual community for EPB, the daVinci Group, are drawn almost entirely from these departments. Science also flourishes on the campus of the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, both located several miles away on the Boston campus. Many exciting new links between activities on the two campuses are currently evolving.