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Description Participants Agenda (TBA)

Baobab tree photo.
Copyright Donald Miralle

NIMBioS Investigative Workshop

Information and Entropy

Topic: Information and entropy in biological systems

Meeting dates: April 8-10, 2015

Location: NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville


  • John Baez, Mathematics, Univ. of California, Riverside
  • Marc Harper, Educational and biotechnology consultant
  • John Harte, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Univ. of California, Berkeley

Objectives: Information theory and entropy methods are becoming powerful tools in biology, from the level of individual cells, to whole ecosystems, to experimental design, model-building, and the measurement of biodiversity. The aim of this investigative workshop is to synthesize different ways of applying these concepts to help systematize and unify work in biological systems. Early attempts at "grand syntheses" often misfired, but applications of information theory and entropy to specific highly focused topics in biology have been increasingly successful. In ecology, entropy maximization methods have proven successful in predicting the distribution and abundance of species. Entropy is also widely used as a measure of biodiversity. Work on the role of information in game theory has shed new light on evolution. As a population evolves, it can be seen as gaining information about its environment. The principle of maximum entropy production has emerged as a fascinating yet controversial approach to predicting the behavior of biological systems, from individual organisms to whole ecosystems. This investigative workshop will bring together top researchers from these diverse fields to share insights and methods and address some long-standing conceptual problems.

Goals of the workshop:

  1. To study the validity of the principle of Maximum Entropy Production (MEP), which states that biological systems - and indeed all open, non-equilibrium systems - act to produce entropy at the maximum rate.
  2. To familiarize all the participants with applications to ecology of the MaxEnt method: choosing the probabilistic hypothesis with the highest entropy subject to the constraints of our data. We will compare MaxEnt with competing approaches and examine whether MaxEnt provides a sufficient justification for the principle of MEP.
  3. To clarify relations between known characterizations of entropy, the use of entropy as a measure of biodiversity, and the use of MaxEnt methods in ecology.
  4. To develop the concept of evolutionary games as "learning" processes in which information is gained over time.
  5. To study the interplay between information theory and the thermodynamics of individual cells and organelles.

Descriptive Flyer

The application process is now closed. Successful applicants will be notified within two weeks of the application deadline.

NIMBioS Investigative Workshops focus on broad topics or a set of related topics, summarizing/synthesizing the state of the art and identifying future directions. Organizers and key invited researchers make up half the 30-40 participants in a workshop, and the remaining 15-20 participants are filled through open application from the scientific community. Open applicants selected to attend are notified by NIMBioS within two weeks of the application deadline. Investigative Workshops have the potential for leading to one or more future Working Groups. Individuals with a strong interest in the topic, including post-docs and graduate students, are encouraged to apply. If needed, NIMBioS can provide support (travel, meals, lodging) for Workshop attendees, whether from a non-profit or for-profit organization.