Biological Oscillators

Like you, I also remember sitting in a physics classroom wishing I did not have to learn about oscillations, and that’s coming from a physics major. When first introduced, the concept of mechanical oscillations feels too abstract and purely mathematical to be all that engaging. Nevertheless, I decided to join a lab this summer where all of our research focuses on the science of oscillations. Don’t worry, it turns out oscillations are actually really interesting.

 

My research advisor Qiong Yang is known, among other things, for her ongoing work surrounding biological oscillators. Biological oscillators are exactly what they sound like an so much more. A classic example would be circadian rhythms, e.g. how your body knows to fall asleep when it gets dark. This is something we take for granted, or at least I do. Take a moment to consider what has to happen for our body to sustain these oscillations; all the way down to the cellular level our bodies are pre programmed to keep these essential rhythms going.

 

The fact that an individual cell  in our body is complex to point of having multiple oscillations occur stably still astounds me. One of the most crucial cellular oscillations occurring in your body right now is mitosis, the processes by which your cells divide and replicate into sister/daughter cells. According to the Yang lab’s research, alongside other studies, a new cycle of mitosis occurs every few hours.

 

Understanding what gives rise to the unlying stability of mitotic oscillations as well as the specific patterns our data reflects makes up a large part of the research I do now. I’m excited to be a part of a rapidly evolving field in biophysics. Our research focuses on mitosis specifically in order to more broadly understand early embryo development. Other mysteries of the human body which oscillatory physics can help solve include topics like glycolysis (converting sugar into energy), neuronal bursts, and muscle contractions.

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