Feynman on Biology

Christina Agapakis in Scientific American:

FeynmanRichard Feynman was a brilliant, bongo-playing, lock-picking, eminently quotablephysicist. His quips, on anything from the pleasure of findings things out to the key to science to how fire works are standard fare for science fans.

For synthetic biologists, it’s a quotation he left on his last blackboard at Caltech before his death in 1988 that is most frequently quoted: “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” This statement gives quotable form to the “drive to make” that happens when engineers start doing biology.

Feynman of course wasn’t an engineer, he was a theoretical physicist–a field less often associated with creating stuff than with creating equations. But Feynman also liked to dabble in other fields, including a sabbatical year in Max Delbrück’s biology lab at Caltech studying genetic mutations in viruses that infect bacteria. The chapter on this disciplinary dabbling in Feynman’s autobiography, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, is a fascinating look at what happens when a physicist starts doing biology.

More here.

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