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To physical scientist, what do you think of biological sciences?

  1. Dec 23, 2014 #1
    I majored in neuroscience and applied math in college and want to do computational neuroscience research long term. Being at the crossroads of biology and physical sciences, I think a lot about how the two "worlds" view each other.

    The lab I'm currently in has some people directly from the physical sciences "world" (physics & electrical engg) and many of them truly love brains. Hard not to. Yet, I have noticed from talking to them that they sometimes miss the order and structure of, say, physics. As the saying goes, biology is messy. Is this a common feeling for those in physical sciences?

    If I may also add, how much do you keep up with what goes on in the biological sciences?
    Even from "physics land" synthetic organisms, growing organs "in a test-tube" and neuroscience-inspired computer vision (nice mix of bio and math.), must seem pretty cool.
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  3. Dec 23, 2014 #2


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    My two cents:
    Physical sciences have a limited number of basic facts that can be combined to explain things. It is intellectually satisfying that simple principles explain so much. The biological sciences have benefited from evolution over millions of years and a trillion, trillion organisms that could evolve. The fantastic complexity of a working biological system is a marvel. Both sciences have great beauty, but they are almost diametrically opposed.
  4. Dec 23, 2014 #3


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    I've pretty much touched, seen, and smelled a good portion of what the biological sciences provide but only understand the instrumentation side; having worked at a couple medical centers, a pharmaceutical CRO, and USDA Brucellosis testing lab. They each have a lot of specialty electronic equipment but all use the same nuts and bolts. And I did learned enough to see how the other side lives. :biggrin:

    Edit: BTW, there are Biomedical Engineers.
  5. Dec 23, 2014 #4


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    Perhaps I have worked with too many medical physicists, I no longer see two distinct worlds.
  6. Dec 24, 2014 #5
    They are both fascinating fields, but at this stage of my life my view is strongly influenced by the medical/biological sciences. We need much more research at the molecular level because every function of a plant right on up to the human level is brought about by molecular bio/chemical interactions.

    Examples: How long have we tried to cure MS? When a neurologist determines that a patient has peripheral neuropathy that is not related to poor circulation (diabetes), or an obvious metabolic condition, why do they quit looking and hand out the nerve pain medications.

    One day I tried to ask my neurologist a few questions about oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria of nerve cells and she just looked at me like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

    Even an in depth Google search reveals that the true nature of PN and many other diseases including cancer goes right on down to basic reactions within the molecular, and even atomic structure of the individual cells.

    There is little to be found indicating that enough effort is being put into research at this level. Could this be because as the Op states that biology is messy? Or could it simply be monetary reasons? Those few medical researchers down in the basement make far less money than physical scientists. Even at our current rate of research medical practice is running many years behind medical research.

    Sorry for the little rant but at this early hour, and with the effects of my nerve pain medication having worn off, I tend to do that. :D
  7. Dec 24, 2014 #6


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    Not "messy," it's terribly difficult to define a system to study in terms of degrees of freedom, state variables, constraints, and apply fundamental physical principles to observations/experiments and predict if/what happens, or should happen, or can be expected to happen.
  8. Dec 24, 2014 #7
    The only molecular biology I know is molecular neuroscience, which is advancing at a breathtaking clip.
    I just have to respectively disagree with you on that. Find a copy of Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, J Molecular Neuro., etc.
    -- it will make your head spin the rate at which novel techniques for understanding molecular mechanisms are being developed and improved.
    Optogentics, techniques using cre-recombinase, or the work that goes on to understand NMDA and AMAP receptors and their potentiation -- all exemplify the extremely rapid development of our understanding of molecular mechanisms. People are working very, very hard in this area.

    The point of yours I find most interesting is the disconnect between modern scientific medicine and modern molecular biology and genetics.
    It's true, but it is changing. Biopharmaceutical (or so-called biologics), PARP inhibitors as well as Calcium Channel Blockers (CCBs) are all "molecular based" and all currently on the market. The numbers of these types of drugs are growing.

    As for your neurologist not knowing about oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria, I think that must be forgiven.
    I think people often forget the sheer volume of information specialists are required to keep in their mind. If you asked her to list every nuclei in the thalamus or describe the pharmacokinetics of Fluoxetine (Prozac), she could likely do it off the top of her head. That's no small feat.

    Best of luck and happy holidays!
  9. Dec 24, 2014 #8


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    My field is computer science & computer engineering, but my studies have also included some physics and electrical engineering, so I think I might reply in this thread.

    I do love brains. Absolutely amazing :k.

    I can only speak for myself here, but yes, I have had (and still have) trouble with both biology and chemistry, I find it very complicated in a certain way (huge number of different terms, different compositions, different processes, oh man :nb)). And I have forgotten very much of those things I once learned in biology and chemistry. And yes, it's also probably due to the fact that I am used to the order and structure of physics and engineering, it suits me. But physics and engineering can also be complicated of course, but in another way (I was actually pretty good at school in chemistry when I was younger, but nowadays I am just like Manuel).

    Very little, regretfully. Sometimes I hear and read about certain things that interest me, like this:
    "A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory"

    Definitely! Not only cool, but awesome! One of my favorite computer science field is artificial intelligence, which have borrowed some general ideas from biology and evolution, e.g. genetic algorithms and artificial neural networks. My thesis was on artificial neural networks.

    Happy holidays!
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2014
  10. Dec 27, 2014 #9


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    Messy versus clear laws, as expected, influence what one chooses between the biological sciences and the physical sciences. Bad instruction early can also play a part.
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