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Biology's Clash of Civilizations

Last summer, at a meeting outside Aspen, Colorado, several dozen physicists gathered to celebrate what the journal Nature described as the "growing feeling that their discipline's mindset will be crucial to reaping the harvest of biology's post-genomic era." In fact, with genetics set to improve everything from human health to agriculture, physicists and mathematicians worldwide are pouring into the life sciences. Biology is where the scientific action--and the money--will be in the coming century.

But this is not the first time that physicists and mathematicians have looked to biology for new fields to plow, and the history of such efforts has been fairly dismal. Biologists and physicists have different goals and traditions, and they look for different kinds of answers, because they ask different kinds of questions.