November 29, 2022

Raghuveer Parthasarathy

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome RAGHUVEER PARTHASARATHY—Professor of Physics at the University of Oregon—for a discussion of his new book, So Simple a Beginning: How Four Physical Principles Shape Our Living World. He was joined in conversation by PHILIP NELSON, author and University of Pennsylvania faculty member.


The form and function of a sprinting cheetah are quite unlike those of a rooted tree. A human being is very different from a bacterium or a zebra. The living world is a realm of dazzling variety, yet a shared set of physical principles shapes the forms and behaviors of every creature in it. So Simple a Beginning shows how the emerging new science of biophysics is transforming our understanding of life on Earth and enabling potentially lifesaving but controversial technologies such as gene editing, artificial organ growth, and ecosystem engineering.

Raghuveer Parthasarathy explains how four basic principles―self-assembly, regulatory circuits, predictable randomness, and scaling―shape the machinery of life on scales ranging from microscopic molecules to gigantic elephants. He describes how biophysics is helping to unlock the secrets of a host of natural phenomena, such as how your limbs know to form at the proper places, and why humans need lungs but ants do not. Parthasarathy explores how the cutting-edge biotechnologies of tomorrow could enable us to alter living things in ways both subtle and profound.

Featuring dozens of original watercolors and drawings by the author, this sweeping tour of biophysics offers astonishing new perspectives on how the wonders of life can arise from so simple a beginning.

About Author(s)

Raghuveer Parthasarathy is a Professor of Physics at the University of Oregon. His research explores the intersections between biology and physics, focusing especially on how communities of gut microbes organize themselves in space and time. His teaching activities include courses for non-science majors, such as a “biophysics for non-scientists” class and courses on energy and the environment. In 2020, Parthasarathy was selected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Philip Nelson is the author of Biological Physics, Physical Models of Living Systems, and From Photon to Neuron. He is on the faculty of University of Pennsylvania and has been Chair of the American Physical Society's Division of Biological Physics.