Tuesday, 24 September 2013 14:44

Teach Yourself To Swim from a Book? ASCB Kaluza Prize Namesake Beckons as Deadline Nears

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KaluzaKaluza demonstrated the theoretical
approach to swimming
Photo: Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut
Oberwolfach (MFO)
The ASCB Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter is named for the German mathematician Theodor Kaluza (1885-1954), who is the namesake of Beckman Coulter's flow cytometry software system. The posthumous reputation of Kaluza, who was not a biologist but a German mathematician, has been on the rise in recent years, and the eponymous honor of a $5,000 cash prize for scientific achievement for an ASCB graduate student is only the latest feather.

Today Kaluza is recognized as one of the founders of "string theory," the controversial mathematical model for a multidimensional, unified field theory, the so-called Theory of Everything. Kaluza's claim to fame came in 1921 when he applied a five-dimensional equation to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and discovered that he solved Maxwell's equation for electromagnetism.

String theory is hot these days, and the best-selling author and physicist Brian Greene has hailed Kaluza's introduction of a fifth dimension as a "bold and bizarre" idea. In the pop culture world, Kaluza's memory has been invoked on the sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory", when his example inspires Sheldon to learn to swim from a book, or in Sheldon's case, the Internet. Sheldon nearly drowns.

According to his son (also named Theodor and also a mathematician), the elder Kaluza taught himself to swim from a book in order to demonstrate the much-abused practicality of theoretical knowledge. Well past 30 and a non-swimmer, Kaluza studied the text and then took the plunge successfully.

The 2013 ASCB Kaluza Prize though does not require such theoretical daring do but it does require an easy, one-page application about work already completed. Just describe what scientific achievements in the broadly defined field of cell biology and basic biological sciences you are most proud of, and why those results could not have happened without your contribution. To be eligible, applicants must be ASCB members (or member applicants), a current graduate student or have graduated within the last two years. Not a member? Join as a graduate student for just $42.

The application deadline is fast approaching—September 30. ASCB grad students around the world: Remember Kaluza and take the plunge.

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

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