New Faculty Member Focuses on Physics Approach to Study Life
Sept. 7, 2016
Wylie Ahmed came to Cal State Fullerton this fall from the Institut Curie in Paris, France, where he was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Physical Chemistry. He specialized in the physics of living systems — a physics approach to understanding biology, also known as biophysics. The assistant professor of physics earned his doctorate and bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Though he began his training in engineering, Ahmed transitioned to physics to study biological systems. His research requires a combined approach harnessing physics, biology, chemistry and engineering to uncover the basic science and potential applications.
What inspired you to go into your field and what was the defining moment?
I find physics inspiring because it is a beautiful way to look at the world, and it invites our minds to wonder how everything works. I realized how useful physics could be in my senior year when I looked into a microscope and saw tiny plastic beads in water dancing around randomly as if they were alive. I learned that by studying the motion of these dancing microscopic particles, it is possible to derive nearly all of thermodynamics, the study of energy flow. This inspired me to study microscopic motion and thermodynamics in living systems, such as the cells that make up our body.
What are your research interests?
My research focuses on understanding the physics of soft, living and active matter, with an emphasis on biological systems. This spans the gamut from the properties of biomaterials to the development of living organisms. These types of matter are all squishy, and some of them are alive and can do amazing things! This research allows us to begin to ask questions like: What is the difference between living and nonliving matter? My research aims to understand the basic physics of soft matter to better understand biological systems and develop new advanced biotechnology.
How do you engage students in your classes and/or your research?
My teaching interests involve how statistical physics and thermodynamics apply to everyday lives. I emphasize how basic concepts in physics help explain the world around us. I believe that the connection between physics and our everyday experiences is critical in learning and loving physics. For this reason, I aim for a balance between hands-on experiments, conceptual learning and quantitative methods to fully engage students.
What changes do you envision in your field five years from now?
The fields of biophysics and soft matter have been evolving rapidly. I envision that our research progress will help us understand what it means to be 'alive,' as well as improve our understanding and treatment of many diseases, and lead to new bio-inspired technologies to benefit everyday life and improve health.
See the complete list of new tenure-track faculty members joining CSUF this fall.