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 Scientiﬁc 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.