Scientific Leap of Faith

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While studying for his PhD in physics, Uri Alon thought he was a failure because all his research paths led to dead ends. But, with the help of improve theater, he came to realize that there could be joy in getting lost. A call for scientists to stop thinking of research as a direct line from question to answer, but as something more creative. It’s a message that will resonate, no matter what your field.

Uri Alon

Uri Alon studies how cells work, using an array of tools (including improv theater) to understand the biological circuits that perform the functions of life. First trained as a physicist, Uri Alon found a passion for biological systems. At the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, he and his lab investigate the protein circuits within a cell (they focus on E. coli), looking for basic interaction patterns that recur throughout biological networks. It's a field full of cross-disciplinary thinking habits and interesting problems. And in fact, Alon is the author of a classic paper on lab behavior called "How to Choose a Good Scienti?c Problem," which takes a step back from the rush to get grants and publish papers to ask: How can a good lab foster growth and self-motivated research? In Alon's lab, students use tools from physics, neurobiology and computer science -- and concepts from improv theatre -- to study basic principles of interactions. Using a theater practice called the "mirror game," they showed that two people can create complex novel motion together without a designated leader or follower. He also works on an addicting site called BioNumbers -- all the measurements you need to know about biology. The characteristic heart rate of a pond mussel? Why it's 4-6 beats per minute.

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