Steven Vogel, an appreciation.

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.

15 thoughts on “Steven Vogel, an appreciation.

  1. Peter W

    Well said, David. Here’s a toast to Steve and the world of Reynolds numbers, flows and the synthesis of biology and physics. I will never forget a talk he gave at a SICB meeting. Absolute last slot of the conference when people have usually left to go home or retreated to a nearby watering hole. The talk was absolutely packed – standing room only out the door. Then Steve proceeded to make the arcanalia of ink jet printing mesmerizing, even if not completely understandable, to non-biophysicists and finally drew parallels between ink jet nozzle and penis design. I could never look at an ink jet printer or those splatters around a toilet the same way again.

  2. Ian

    I happen to be reading Prime Mover having just finished cat paws and catapults. I am very greatful for his legacy insightful writing.

  3. Joe Mehling

    My condolences to you, David, and warm thanks for the introduction to Steve Vogel’s work, which is new to me. Also new to me (on the outside chance you haven’t heard of her): Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, THE MUSHROOM AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Princeton, 2015).


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