Winegard Lecture: Drunken Sailors, Coin Flips and How to Read Genomes

Event Details

  • Speaker(s): Rob Phillips
  • Date:
  • Time: 3:30 PM
  • Location: University Centre 442


The ability to read the DNA sequences of different organisms has transformed biology in much the same way that the telescope transformed astronomy. And yet, much of the sequence found in these genomes is as enigmatic as the Rosetta Stone was to early Egyptologists. This talk will describe unexpected ways of using the physics of information transfer first developed at Bell Labs for thinking about telephone communications to look into genomes and to try and understand their meaning.


Wine and Cheese reception to follow the lecture at the University Club. Please RSVP your attendance to Elena Stocco,

About Dr. Rob Phillips

Rob Phillips Portrait
Dr. Rob Phillips

Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology California Institute of Technology

B.S., University of Minnesota, 1986; Ph.D., Washington University, 1989. Clark Millikan Visiting Assistant Professor, Caltech, 1997; Professor, 2000-2011; Morris Professor, 2012-.

Rob Phillips is a rare breed – a genuine blend of a physicist and a biologist, and one of the leading proponents of the emerging field of quantitative biology. In his research, Rob studies a range of important problems – how viruses transfer their genetic material to their infected hosts, the free energy cost of DNA packing within viruses and how that stored energy can be used to power genome transfer, the interplay between the informational and physical characteristics of DNA, and how mechanosensitive channels in bacteria work.

He is the lead author of the book Physical Biology of the Cell, which is widely used as an undergraduate textbook (including the NANO*4100 Biological Nanomaterials course at the University of Guelph). He is not afraid to express his opinions, so it will be an interesting and provocative public lecture!

Selected Awards: 

  • KITP Simons Distinguished Visiting Scholar, 2015
  • Makris Memorial Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania, 2015
  • Resnick Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University, 2014
  • Book of the Year Award for Physical Biology of the Cell - Society of Biologists, 2013
  • Co-Director, Physiology Course, Marine Biological Laboratory, 2014-
  • Burroughs-Wellcome CASI Award Selection Committee Chair, 2013-
  • KAVLI Institute Theoretical Physics-Advisory Board, 2013-2015
  • Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology, 2012-
  • EU International Distinguished Scientist, 2012
  • Member, Institute of Theoretical Physics, 1997, 2006, 2012, 2015
  • Ehrenfest Colloquium, Leiden, 2010
  • 35th Annual Award for Excellence in Teaching, ASCIT, 2010-2011
  • Pierre Gilles de Gennes Fellowship, Paris, France, 2010-2012
  • Course Director, Physical Biology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, 2010-
  • APS Fellow, 2009
  • Southwest Mechanics Lecturer, 2009
  • Lead Instructor, Physiology Course, Marine Biology Laboratory, 2006-
  • Editorial Board Annual Reviews of Biophysics, 2006-2012
  • NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, 2004-2009
  • Midwest Mechanics Lecturer, 2002-2003
  • Member, Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, 1999
  • First Chaired Manning Assistant Professor, Brown University
  • NSF CAREER Award
  • Washington University Dissertation Fellow, 1988-89
  • Washington University Fellow, 1986-1988