Workshop: Aging and Failure in Biological, Physical and Engineered Systems

May 15, 16, 17, 2016 Cambridge MA


Workshop Chair

Dervis Can Vural, University of Notre Dame

Organizing Committee

Walter Bortz, Stanford University
L. Mahadevan, Harvard University
James Sethna, Cornell University
Pinar Zorlutuna, University of Notre Dame


Nearly every complex system fails. Biological organisms, complex machines, materials, buildings, social and economic structures all loose their integrity gradually, and eventually fall apart with a sudden catastrophe. Aging is a complex phenomenon that spans multiple time and length scales. Therefore a fundamental understanding of aging must necessarily take into account factors beyond microscopic building blocks, (such as the molecular bonds in a failing material or cells in a failing organ) to explain how failure cascades from microscopic to macroscopic length scales.

The central goals of the workshop are to 1. work towards general laws of aging and failure, by generalizing the conclusions drawn from specific mechanisms taking place in specific systems; 2. to identify quantifiable, testable questions on how living and nonliving systems age and fail; 3. to establish commonalities and differences between engineered, physical, social and biological aging and failure; 4. to bring the languages of engineering reliability, aging biology, molecular biophysics and statistical mechanics together, i.e. to set up the foundations of a translation table between aging and failure in living, material/physical, social and engineered systems; 5. to understand how aging can be controlled and manipulated; specifically, to determine if the principles of repair in engineered systems can be applied to biological aging and to determine if biological self-repair can inspire more robust engineered systems and materials; 6. to lay forth the current theoretical understanding of the dynamics underlying aging and failure.


This workshop has been supported by the National Science Foundation Physics of Living Systems and University of Notre Dame.

Time Table (Tentative)


Robert Austin, Princeton University (Slides)
Annette Baudisch, Max Planck Institute

Walter Bortz, Stanford University
Lloyd Demetrius, Harvard University
Walter Fontana, Harvard University (Slides)
Leonard Guarente, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Leonard Hayflick, University of California, San Francisco (Slides)
L. Mahadevan, Harvard University
Keith March, Indiana University

Mohammad Modarres, University of Maryland (Slides)
Vamsi Mootha, Harvard University
Arvind Murugan, University of Chicago
Sidney Redner, Santa Fe Institute (Slides)
Shmuel Rubinstein, Harvard University
James Sethna, Cornell University
Ashivni Shekhawat, University of California, Berkeley (Slides)
Nicholas Stroustrup, Harvard University
Dervis Can Vural, University of Notre Dame (Slides)
Amy Wager, Harvard University
Pinar Zorlutuna, University of Notre Dame

Workshop Administrator

Elizabeth Kuhn
Contact E-mail:

Abbreviated Schedule

May 15 Sunday
6pm, Informal Reception (Graffon Street Pub)

May 16, Monday
8-5:30 pm, Workshop Talks (Harvard Gutman Center)
6:30 Socialization and Dinner (Rialto Restaurant)

May 17, Tuesday

8-5:45pm, Workshop Talks (Harvard Guttman Center)

Monday May 16

8 – 9:00am    Breakfast
Session 1 / Session Chair: L. Mahadevan
9:00 – 9:20 am    Walter Bortz
9:20 – 10:00 am    Annette Baudisch
10:00 – 10:20 am    Lloyd Demetrius
10:20 – 10:50 am    Discussion
10:50 – 11:10 am    Coffee Break
11:10 – 11:30 am    Dervis Can Vural
11:30 – 11:50 am    Pinar Zorlutuna
11:50 – 12:20 pm    Discussion
12:20 – 1:30 pm    Lunch
Session 2 / Session Chair: James Sethna
1:30 – 2:10 pm    Mohammad Modarres
2:10 – 2:30 pm   
Nicholas Stroustrup
2:30 – 3:00 pm    Discussion
3:00 – 3:20 pm    Coffee Break
3:20 – 3:40    Amy Wager
3:40 – 4:00    Leonard Guarante
4:00 – 5:00    Discussion
6:30 –     Workshop Dinner


Tuesday May 17

8 – 9:00am    Breakfast   
Session 1 / Session Chair:  Walter Bortz
9:00 – 9:20 am    Leonard Hayflick   
9:20 – 10:00 am    Walter Fontana   
10:00 – 10:20 am    Robert Austin   
10:20 – 10:50 am    Discussion   
10:50 – 11:10 am    Coffee Break   
11:10 – 11:30 am    Arvind Murugan   
11:30 – 11:50 pm    Ashivni Shekhawat   
11:50 – 12:20 pm    Discussion   
12:20 – 1:30 pm    Lunch   
Session 2 / Session Chair: Leonard Hayflick
1:30 – 2:10 pm    Sidney Redner   
2:10 -2:30 pm    James Sethna   
2:30 – 3:00 pm    Discussion   
3:00 – 3:20 pm    Coffee Break   
3:20 – 3:40    Shmuel Rubinstein   
3:40 – 4:00    Keith March
4:00 – 4:50     Discussion   
4:50 – 5:00    Final Remarks