Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics in Biology

William Cannon and I are organizing a special session on thermodynamics in biology at the American Physical Society March Meeting, which will be held in Chicago on March 14–18, 2022.

If you work on this, please submit an abstract here before October 22! Our session number is 03.01.32.

Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics in Biology: from Chemical Reaction Networks to Natural Selection

Since Lotka, physical scientists have argued that living things belong to a class of complex and orderly systems that exist not despite the second law of thermodynamics, but because of it. Life and evolution, through natural selection of dissipative structures, are based on non-equilibrium thermodynamics. The challenge is to develop an understanding of what the respective physical laws can tell us about flows of energy and matter in living systems, and about growth, death and selection. This session will address current challenges including understanding emergence, regulation and control across scales, and entropy production, from metabolism in microbes to evolving ecosystems.

We have some speakers lined up already. Eric Smith of the Santa Fe Institute will speak on “Combinatorics in evolution: from rule-based systems to the thermodynamics of selectivities”. David Sivak of Simon Fraser University will speak on “”Nonequilibrium energy and information flows in autonomous systems”.

If you have any questions, please ask.

7 Responses to Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics in Biology

  1. allenknutson says:

    Has David Sivak met David Spivak? (You did say “any” questions.)

  2. Surajit Manna says:

    Are there any plans to record and share it on online platform?

    • John Baez says:

      Probably not. It’s a session in a huge conference run by the American Physical Society, with hundreds or thousands of talks: they expect 12,000 people to attend. My experience so far has been that these conferences don’t record and share the talks.

      I don’t know how they plan to deal with COVID-19.

      • Andrew Zhukov says:

        COVID-19 is already among participants with topics:
        “You want spread the world, but predators are here.” (ft. Lotka)
        “Do you have competitors? Natural selection.” (ft. Fisher & John C. Baez)
        “Entropy production in RNA, DNA, cell, organism, american society” (ft. Prigogine, Eigen, Trump)

    • John Baez says:

      Here is some information about how the conference will work. It looks like there is no recording of talks, except that people will have the option to give pre-recorded talks (as well as give talks remotely):

      • What’s the format of the MM 2022 and how the APS responds to the covid situation?

      (1) The conference format will be hybrid (in person+virtual). MM will require a vaccination proof for in-person participation. APS will take temperatures and offer onsite rapid covid tests.

      (2) Only the invited sessions will be live-streamed. On-demand pre-recording will be offered for other sessions like they did last year.

      (3) Session chairs will preside in person to manually switch between in-person and on-demand presentations.

  3. The ever increasing complexity via biological evolution is thermodynamically driven by maximum entropy production (MEP)!


    Nature selects systems that produce more and more entropy! This thermodynamic principle is manifested as life, evolution and even human civilisation!


    Discoveries of fire, oil and nuclear

    energy are in line with the thermodynamic principle of maximum entropy production (MEP)!

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