William Bialek is the John Archibald Wheeler/Battelle Professor in Physics at Princeton University. He also is a member of the multidisciplinary Lewis–Sigler Institute. In addition to his responsibilities at Princeton, he is Visiting Presidential Professor of Physics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where is helping to launch an Initiative for the Theoretical Sciences.
Born in 1960 and educated in the San Francisco public schools, Bialek graduated from Lowell High School in 1977. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, receiving the AB (1979) and PhD (1983) degrees in Biophysics. After postdoctoral appointments at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands and at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, he returned to Berkeley to join the faculty in 1986. In late 1990 he moved to the newly formed NEC Research Institute (now the NEC Laboratories) in Princeton, where he eventually became an Institute Fellow. During his years at NEC, Bialek also made extended visits for research and teaching at many institutions around the world, including the University of California at San Francisco, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati in Trieste, Italy, and Princeton University; he joined the Princeton faculty as Professor of Physics in 2001. In Spring 2008 he spent a sabbatical at the University of Rome, La Sapienza.
Professor BialekÕs research interests have ranged over a wide variety of theoretical problems at the interface of physics and biology, from the dynamics of individual biological molecules to learning and cognition. Best known for contributions to our understanding of coding and computation in the brain, Bialek and collaborators have shown that aspects of brain function can be described as essentially optimal strategies for adapting to the complex dynamics of the world, making the most of the available signals in the face of fundamental physical constraints and limitations. More recently he has followed these ideas of optimization into the early events of embryonic development, and the processes by which all cells make decisions about when to read out the information stored in their genes. His hope is that these diverse biological phenomena may be understandable through some unifying theoretical principles, in the physics tradition.
Throughout his career Bialek has been involved both in helping to establish biophysics as a sub-discipline within physics and in helping biology to absorb the quantitative intellectual tradition of the physical sciences. During his years at NEC he organized the Princeton Lectures on Biophysics, a series of workshops that provided many young physicists with an introduction to the challenges and opportunities at the interface with biology. For more than twenty years Professor Bialek has participated in summer courses at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, serving as co-director of the computational neuroscience course in the summers of 1998 through 2002. Currently he is involved in a major educational experiment at Princeton to create a truly integrated and mathematically sophisticated introduction to the natural sciences for first year college students.