Friday, November 27, 2015

Steven Vogel (1940-2015)

Steven Vogel died on Tuesday. He was the author of several excellent books about the interface between physics and biology. Two that Russ Hobbie and I cite in the first chapter of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology are Vital Circuits (1992) and Life in Moving Fluids (1994), which is one of the books featured in the IPMB Ideal Bookshelf. I posted two blog entries about Vogel's book Glimpses of Creatures in Their Physical Worlds, here and here. I quote him extensively in a blog entry about the Law of Laplace, in a blog entry about Murray's law, and in a blog entry about the Reynolds number. His other books I have enjoyed include Life's Devices, Cats' Paws and Catapults, and Prime Mover. Reading The Life of a Leaf remains on my to-do list.

I learned the sad news of Vogel's death from Raghuveer Parthasarathy's blog The Eighteenth Elephant. There is little I can add to his eloquent tribute. I attended the same conference that Parthasarathy writes about, which is where I met Vogel. He was a delightful and fascinating man. You can listen to him talk about writing scientific papers here, and read his obituary here.

I leave you with Vogel's own words, the first two paragraphs of the Preface from the second edition of Life in Moving Fluids. I don't own the first edition, but I will try to hunt down for you the "first punning sentence" of the first edition Preface that Vogel refers to. I always love a good pun.
About a dozen years ago, calling up a degree of hubris I now find quite inexplicable, I wrote a book about the interface between biology and fluid dynamics. I had never deliberately written a book, and I had never taken a proper course in fluids. But I had learned through teaching—both something about the subject and something about the dearth of material that might provide a useful avenue of approach for biologist and engineer. Each seemed dazzled and dismayed by the complexity of the other’s domain. The book happened in a hurry, in a kind of race against the impending end of a sabbatical semester, and in a kind of mad fit of passion driven by simple realization (and astonishment) that it was actually happening.
The reception of Life in Moving Fluids turned out to surpass my most self-indulgent fantasies—it reached the people I hoped to reach, from ecologist and marine biologist to physical and applied scientists of various persuasions, and it seems to have played a catalytic or instigational role in quite a few instances. Quite clearly the book has been the most important thing of a professional sort that I’ve ever done: certainly that’s true if measured by the frequency with which the first punning sentence of its preface is flung back at me (That my writing has been more important than my research in furthering my area of science suggests that doing hands-on science, which I enjoy, is really just a personal indulgence—quite a curious state of affairs!)
Note added a few hours after the post: Russ Hobbie has the first edition. He says the first line of the preface is "Fluid flow is not currently in the mainstream of biology, but it has its place."

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