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BIO 10N: Using Physics to Explain Biology: Mechanistic Approaches to Plankton Ecology

Phytoplankton, the foundation of the oceanic food chain.

Meet the Instructor

Course Description

People often think of physics and biology as entirely separate scientific pursuits, but in fact the two can be productively combined. All plants and animals live in a physical environment, and the laws of physics that govern that environment often determine how organisms function and interact. In this seminar, we will explore the confluence of physics and biology through an in-depth look at how phytoplankton and zooplankton--the small algae and animals that form the base of the oceans' food web--are affected by the physical properties of their watery world. You will be amazed by our ability to explain the ecology of these organisms, and how important that ecology is to life on earth.

Meet the Instructor

Mark Denny

Mark Denny

"As you might guess from the topic of this seminar, my interest in science is in exploring how the principles of physics and engineering can be used to explain how plants and animals work. This is the burgeoning field of biomechanics. For the past 38 years I have been resident at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, where I have studied the seaweeds and animals that live in the intertidal zone of wave-swept rocky shores, the most stressful environment on Earth. When the tide is in, these organisms have to cope with the humungous forces imposed by crashing waves; when the tide is out, these marine organisms are subjected to the terrestrial environment, which can cause them to dry out and overheat. Despite this physical adversity, rock shores are home to an incredible diversity of living things, and my students and I are beginning to understand how they survive and thrive."

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