A collage of physical phenomena

When plant biology meets physics…

Great things are possible when disciplines that may be studied separately and distinctly are brought together. For example, and famously, when botany, zoology, bacteriology, mycology, protistology, virology, chemistry, physics, and anthropology (and maybe a few more ‘-ologies’ and non-ologies…) come together we get the new(-ish) discipline of ecology. More modestly, this item is concerned just with two sciences, botany and physics*. And its sole declared intention is to alert the readers of Plant Cuttings – who are a switched-on plant-minded bunch – to a special issue of Physics World.

A collage of physical phenomena
Image: Fastfission / Wikipedia

Although this is a journal that may not be on their radar as far as plant-related reading goes, April 2018’s issue featured many articles that take a physics perspective on plant matters. And, because Plant Cuttings is about service to the botanical community, I’ve done the hard work for you (and it took quite a while to do…) and tracked down freely-available copies of that issue’s plant physics articles.

So, you can now read about: Cornell University (USA) botanist Karl Niklas; the issues of growing plants in space; nano-strategies used by flowers for colour and pollinator-attraction; discover the connection between transpiration and cooling vehicles that travel at hypersonic speeds**; gain insights into how electric fields can affect root growth and regeneration***; and discover whether – or not – photosynthesis is ‘quantum-ish’. Happy to help put some ‘fizz’ back into your botany.

* More examples of ‘when botany meets physics’ can be found in the following Cuttings item, Flowers (it’s what angiosperms are all about!). For a good source of plant (and other lifeforms) and physics investigations, we recommend the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which publishes “cross-disciplinary research at the interface between the physical and life sciences”.

** Since transpiration is primarily a xylem-related phenomenon, in the interests of balance we shouldn’t neglect that other long-distance vascular transport pathway – the phloem. For an update on the physics of phloem we recommend Kaare Jensen’s article.

*** For more about the phenomenon of electrical signals originating in the root of vascular plants, see Javier Canales et al..

Nigel Chaffey

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

1 comment

  • Just what I needed some smartaleck mathematical biologist guy spending half the lecture talking right over my head. “Ta heck” with Cornell anyways! Bunch “O” smartalecks up there. Figures, those darned physicist show offs have all that “evidence” stuff to prove their smart aleck ideas, It’s enough to make your hair hurt. Thanks for allowing us mere mortal slug like creatures to watch through the window. It was fun.

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