Steven Vogel, biologist and author, has died. Jim Gorman’s article in the New York Times gives us a glance at the man behind the books. Through Jim Gorman’s interviews we learn that Vogel’s generous enthusiasm and love of learning, so clearly expressed in his writing, were also evident in his relations with colleagues and students.
I remember picking up some of Vogel’s books as an undergraduate and seeing the living world for the first time through his eyes, the eyes of a biologist engineer. Life is made from substances with strange physical properties. We move through fluids whose frictions, flows, and viscosities not only differ from one medium to another, but change as living creatures speed up and slow down, grow or shrink. How do leaves move in the flow of air? How does a limb work with and against gravity and friction? How does the cell swim?
Vogel’s words showed the beauty that emerges through the play of life’s evolution against the world’s physical laws — a dynamic explored in a million ways by a million species — and shared it with those of us who are not engineers or bio-mechanics experts. What joy there is in understanding that the Bernoulli principle powers, in part, the airfoil of birds, the ventilation of termite mounds, and the feeding currents of marine sponges! Thank you, Steven.