Uri Alon

Systems biologist
Uri Alon studies how cells work, using an array of tools (including improv theater) to understand the biological circuits that perform the functions of life.

Why you should listen

First trained as a physicist, Uri Alon found a passion for biological systems. At the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, he and his lab investigate the protein circuits within a cell (they focus on E. coli), looking for basic interaction patterns that recur throughout biological networks. It's a field full of cross-disciplinary thinking habits and interesting problems. And in fact, Alon is the author of a classic paper on lab behavior called "How to Choose a Good Scientific Problem," which takes a step back from the rush to get grants and publish papers to ask: How can a good lab foster growth and self-motivated research?
 
In Alon's lab, students use tools from physics, neurobiology and computer science -- and concepts from improv theatre -- to study basic principles of interactions. Using a theater practice called the "mirror game," they showed that two people can create complex novel motion together without a designated leader or follower. He also works on an addicting site called BioNumbers -- all the measurements you need to know about biology. The characteristic heart rate of a pond mussel? Why it's 4-6 beats per minute.

What others say

“Understanding how improvisation works can help create optimal conditions for generating new, original ideas in research.” — The Weizmann Wave

Uri Alon on the TED Blog

Live from TEDGlobal 2013

Scientific research and … improv? Uri Alon at TEDGlobal 2013

June 13, 2013

“In the middle of my PhD, I was hopelessly stuck,” confesses scientist Uri Alon. “Every research direction I tried led to a dead end. It seemed my basic assumptions stopped working.” Alon felt like a failure. And even though he got through it, the experience stuck with him … especially when it happened again. While […]

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Live from TEDGlobal 2013

Imagined Beauty: The speakers in Session 10 at TEDGlobal 2013

June 13, 2013

Beauty is always a key theme at TED, and in this session, Imagined Beauty, there’s something for everyone, with speakers including a couple whose professions have required the coining of new words.  Meet the “cloudspotter,” the “mathemagician,” and the others who presented to us in this session of TEDGlobal. Click on their name for a […]

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