School of Mathematics

Tim Newman

Tim Newman abstract

Timothy Newman, Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Dundee 

Title: Approaching biology discretely

Abstract: The idea that physical systems are deterministic, and codified by differential equations, has been extraordinarily useful in understanding classical physical phenomena. This idea, whether imposed deliberately or not, has underlain much of the theoretical modeling of living systems. I will argue that a fundamentally non-deterministic approach to biology is typically more appropriate. Such probabilistic thinking naturally places more importance on the discreteness of living systems and their components, which in turn raises interesting questions about the relative explanatory power of emergence versus regulation in biology. I will temper the philosophical tenor of this talk by presenting in detail two examples of discrete modeling, which have uncovered surprising new insights in the well-studied problems of cancer metastasis and predator-prey cycles.


Bio: Timothy Newman received his BA in Physics from the University of Oxford in 1988, and his PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Manchester in 1991. His doctoral and post-doctoral training focused on the quantitative understanding of non-equilibrium processes in physical systems (such as fluids, magnets, and superconductors). In 2000, while at the University of Virginia, Prof Newman began studying biological systems, focusing initially on population dynamics. He joined the physics faculty of Arizona State University in 2002, and around that time his interests shifted more to multicellular, cellular, and intracellular dynamics. In 2008 Prof Newman became Director of the Arizona State University Center for Biological Physics. He accepted the position of Professor of Biophysics and SULSA Research Chair in Systems Biology at the University of Dundee in January 2011, and, on moving to the UK, accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of the UK biophysics journal, Physical Biology. In 2013 he became Dean of Engineering, Physics, and Mathematics at the University of Dundee. The main emphasis of his work is understanding and quantifying the effect of fluctuations in complex biological systems. His research utilises both large-scale computer simulations and analysis of stochastic processes. He is currently working on three main problems: multicellular dynamics in embryo development, rare event statistics of metastasis formation, and spatio-temporal fluctuations in intracellular interactions.