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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 8 July, 3, 1946

Physicist on Biology

Physicist on Biology

The author of this slim volume is a prominent physicist, well known for his work on wave mechanics. He considers the question "What is Life?" in the light of recent genetical research; his approach is therefore new and his arguments are logical and convincing.

"Ordinary physics is statistical," that is, in considering any physical phenomenon, say diffusion or paramagnetism. We must take a large number of molecules and consider the statistical effect of the whole and from our observations we can formulate very exact laws. In considering a single molecule or any small number we find only indescribable chaos and we cannot find out very much. Schrödinger says. "Physics is order out of disorder."

On the other hand, in biology, the fundamental hereditary substance, the gene, is now known to be very small, containing so few atoms or molecules that by ordinary physical interpretations we should expect nothing but confusion and instability. To explain the permanence and stability of the gene (it may remain the same for thousands of years). Schrödinger says that "it is probably a large protein molecule in which every atom, every radical, every heterocyclic ring plays an individual role, more or less different from that played by any of the other similar atoms, radicals or rings. This is the opinion of leading geneticists such as Haldane and Darlington." Hence biology is "order out of disorder," that is an animal or plant is an arrangement of orderly atoms and molecules.

This is Schrödinger's main point from which other important considerations follow, such as the periodic crystal of physics (a crystal in which a group of atoms or molecules repeats itself many times) in contrast to the aperiodic crystal of biology (the individual chromosomes, where the arrangement of a large number of different molecules is not repeated). Mutation is considered as possibly a quantum or energy "jump."

The book tails off with a [unclear: sort] essay on determinism and free-will. On the whole it is one of the most important books we have seen on the subject for many years, and the theory should be a valuable weapon for a good physicist or biologist to carry out some very significant research.

(Courtesy of [unclear: Modern] Books.)