Optimal thought and optimal fitness through reason, logic, science, passion, and wisdom.
The Integration of Biology With Chemistry and Physics: Anecdote 2
The Integration of Biology With Chemistry and Physics: Anecdote 2

The Integration of Biology With Chemistry and Physics: Anecdote 2

Isaac Asimov tells us another fascinating, intriguing scientific anecdote in A Short History of Biology:
If a protein solution is placed in an electric field, the individual protein molecules travel toward either the positive of negative electrode at a fixed speed dictated by the pattern of the electric charge, the size and shape of the molecule and so on. No two varieties of protein would travel at precisely the same speed under all conditions. In 1937, the Swedish chemist, Arne Wilhelm Kaurin Tiselius (1902- ), a student of Svedberg‘s, devised an apparatus to take advantage of this. This consisted of a special tube arranged like a rectangular U, within which a protein mixture could move in response to an electric field. (Such motion is called “electrophoresis.”) Since the various components of the mixture moved each at its own rate, there was a gradual separation. The rectangular-U tube consisted of portions that fitted together at specifically ground joints, and these portions could be slid apart. Matters could be arranged so that one of the mixture of proteins would be present in one component of the chambers and could thus be separated from the rest. Furthermore, by the use of appropriate cylindrical lenses, it became possible to follow the process of separation by taking advantage of changes in the way light was refracted on passing through the suspended mixture as the protein concentration changed. The changes in refraction could be photographed as a wavelike pattern which could then be used to calculate the quantity of each type of protein present in the mixture. pp. 155-156, A Short History of Biology by Isaac Asimov, American Museum Science Books, the Natural History Press, Garden City, New York, (c) 1964 Isaac Asimov.
The integration of physics, chemistry, technology, and biology is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Mr. Asimov presents some of the discoveries and ideas in biology that led up to Tiselius’ work (such as the discovery of organic compounds and proteins), and then discusses in his book what happened after this. He focuses on the biology and chemistry. Mr. Asimov teaches correctly: the reader gets to see what basic evidence and reasoning led to the concepts, principles and theories of modern biology. The reader gets the skeleton of induction needed to grasp a concept, etc. Most students now-a-day are trained in a mash that amounts to confusion, memorized words (like a parrot), and obedience of authority, not to understanding proper. Students are not being trained in reasoning and objectivity. To properly understand Tiselius’ work, one would need to learn that which Mr. Asimov presented, but one would also need to learn some of the scientific work of Michael Faraday (The Laws of Electrolysis) and Willebrord Snellius (Snell’s Law of Refraction). What’s more, Tiselius’ work has to be clearly rooted in the work of Galileo and Newton, who studied telescopes and light, studied motion and gravity, and started modern science. There are also ideas developed in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s that are essential to achieving a real, inductive, objective understanding. Update (9-4-09, 8:15 AM):  And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the development of mathematics, Aristotle’s development of logic, and the integration of mathematics and the physical and biological sciences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.