Prof. Matthias F. Schneider


Vorstellung der Abteilung "Medizinische und Biologische" Physik
TU Dortmund

Scientific Motivation - Research

Can physical laws explain living systems?

Molecular biology may provide a material basis (the building blocks) of life (causa materialis), but physics has to explain why things happen (causa efficiens). Our dream is to understand biological function based on physical principles or - in other words - to derive biological function from physics.
One key idea is to start from the 2nd law of thermodynamics in Einstein's formulation, as suggested by Konrad Kaufmann, and apply it to hydrated interfaces. In this way different biological functions are derived from looking at the 2nd law for different thermodynamic states.

Communication and Integration in Biology. What makes the cell a cell?

What makes the cell an unit? What orchestrates it or how does one end know about the other?
We have demonstrated that linear and nonlinear acoustic pulses can propagate at hydrated interfaces (e.g. lipid monolayers) and can be regulated by the thermodynamic state. Importantly, we look at this pulses as the result of the first derivatives in the entropy potential (Einstein 1910). Such pulses have to exist in biology as well. We propose they form the foundation of integration and 
communication in biology from cells, cell assemblies, organs up to the brain. In this sense these pulses would represent a physical origin of Neuroscience.

See in particular reference: 44, 45, 55 and 48 (further publications on pulses 34, 47,49, 56)

The control of catalytic activity by the thermodynamic state (fluctuations or - in other words -the second derivatives) is a further step, which integrates the main pillar of Biochemistry: Enzymes. State changes - isotherm and/or adiabatic - can regulate enzymatic activity (Kaufmann 1996). The latter can and will feed back on the state for instance by chemistry (e.g. by changing lipids). We will study the role of this integration of Biochemistry in a thermodynamic picture for the physical foundation the cell using Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS).

Health and departure from health. Physically controlled (cell) adaptation.

The described integration of state, pulses and biochemistry opens the door to study adaptation, growth and structure formation of biological systems. If a certain thermodynamic state (critical?) is favored, i.e. optimizes the system in some sense, external perturbations will trigger processes, that drive the system back to this state, i.e. the system adapts.
We will test this hypothesis on living systems and study its role in addiction and withdrawal. Further, we will investigate the formation of cellular networks and how growth and connectivity relates to the existence of pulses and its coupling to enzymatic activity via state. This ultimately should test whether these ideas hold also for a physical foundation of the brain.

Physical Specificity
...under construction...

Understanding Thrombus Formation
...under construction...

- the unifying interface for clotting and cancer: inflammation
- self organized blood clotting
- collective aggregation under flow

On Thermodynamics and the Shoulders of Einstein and others

“Eine Theorie ist desto eindrucksvoller, je größer die Einfachheit ihrer Prämissen ist, je verschiedenartigere Dinge sie verknüpft, und je weiter ihr Anwendungsbereich ist. Deshalb der tiefe Eindruck, den die klassische Thermodynamik auf mich machte. Es ist die einzige physikalische Theorie allgemeinen Inhaltes, von der ich überzeugt bin, dass sie im Rahmen der Anwendbarkeit ihrer Grundbegriffe niemals umgestossen werden wird (zur besonderen Beachtung der grundsätzlichen Skeptiker).” 
Albert Einstein, 1946 (Autobiographical Notes)

“A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression that classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content concerning which I am convinced that, within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts, it will never be overthrown (for the special attention of those who are sceptics on principle).” 

(English translation by Paul Arthur Schilpp).