Physicist Herbert Levine examines the dynamics of non-equilibrium systems, both deterministic and stochastic, to explain and quantify the intricate processes that govern biological systems. He is a pioneer in using theory to expand experimental findings and in the development of well-parameterized computational models that can be used to garner new insights into biomedical systems. A main research project in his group combines theoretical approaches with advanced laboratory experiments to understand directed cell motion in eukaryotic cells and to elucidate both signal transduction and cellular mechanics aspects of this critical process. Additional areas of research include calcium-based cell signaling (most recently at the neuronal synapse), the statistical mechanics of Darwinian evolution, and pattern formation in microorganism colonies.
Levine is one of the originators of the "microscopic solvability" approach to diffusively unstable systems. The theory has revolutionized the understanding of several phenomena, including the structures that bacteria create when they colonize surfaces and form antibiotic resistant biofilms. This work demonstrated how microscopic degrees of freedom, (which for biological cases, ultimately relates to genetic expression dynamics), interacts with macroscopic transport physics to determine structure.
Working with collaborators at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative, the Texas Medical Center, and the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) – a Physics Frontiers Center funded by the National Science Foundation, Levine is expanding his focus to address complex issues in cancer progression and treatment. Through additional funding from a grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), new approaches are being devised that will help form an integrated picture of the many changes that occur in cells, tissues and organs due to cancer.
Levine is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an elected member of the National Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Physical Society, past chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Biological Physics. He is the author of more than 225 peer-reviewed publications, has served as member of the editorial board for the journals Chaos and Physical Biology, and was associate editor for the Biophysical Journal for six years. His research has been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, the Today Show and many other popular science forums. Levine is a co-director of CTBP and consultant for JASON, which is an independent group of scientists that advises the U.S. government on matters of science and technology.
Biological systems operate in nonequilibrium states, using free energy derived from metabolism to run all the various processes needed for survival. Understanding the chemical and physical mechanisms that govern these processes is an essential component for advancing our quantitative understanding biological systems. Ultimately, this new level of understanding should prove crucial for tackling currently intractable diseases such as metastatic cancer.
Specific areas of current focus include: