Yesterday we wished farewell to Pedro Machado, a young physicist who has been in the lab for the last few years, educating us in the use of measurement and theory to understand biological systems. Pedro came to Cambridge four years ago fresh from a PhD in Holland on quantum gravity and a great interest in understanding the emergent properties of cells within tissues. At the time Nicole Gorfinkiel had started a trip trying to put some physics in the process of ‘dorsal closure’, a morphogenetic event at the end of Drosophila embryogenesis we had been working on for some time. So, Pedro’s arrival and interest was timely. Overall, as a group, we had decided that a physical sciences inspired approach to Biology was the way forward. Pedro was the first physicist to reside in the lab and I can see now that in his time with us he has learnt and we have learnt. Pedro is a brilliant, imaginative and inspiring scientist with, as befits a good theorist, a great eye for beauty in the structure of a thought or an idea and with a great way of discussing about Nature.
Pedro tried to fiddle with fly embryos but this did not last long. Needles, slides and microscopes, not to mention eggs, are a far cry from quantum gravity. Around him, in the ticky-tacky room (as it is called) Pedro with Jonathan, Pau, Sabine and, throughout the years, a small group of visitors have been teaching us how to put and interpret numbers in Biology and, in exchange we hope to have given him something to think about. I guess at the end of this stretch of his journey Pedro will be happy to have dabbled with Biology and, hopefully, have learnt to accept that Nature is noisy, also reliable, but noisy. Ever since he arrived he has worked in close association with Nicole and the problem they set out to solve has taken more time than they thought it would. Miraculously it was solved a few weeks ago and I am pleased for both of them; it soon will be in manuscript form. How cells turn tissues into continua with material properties is not an easy problem, but one that, probably, is at the root of many morphogenetic processes and we need to understand through a cycle of theory-measurement-modelling-experiment. Pedro and Nicole with the help of their collaborator Guy Blanchard have been doing just this.
Like all physicists, and unlike most biologists, the quantitative skills that Pedro carries will open him doors. For the moment he is going to London, to work on an exciting new venture which looks at how to interface computers, data and medical intervention. An exciting new field to which, we are all sure, Pedro will contribute enormously.
We shall miss Pedro, his class, his kindness, his brilliance and panache when explaining something. But we shall continue to work together. As I always tell him, Einstein did not do his best work from a University or a research institute but rather from his spare time in a patent office in Zurich. We still have some unfinished business and we shall always have questions and data for him to explain, for us to discuss. And we look forward to this and more.