The one scale that rules them all

Jennifer Ouellette in Physics World:

51IJRIWluZL._AA300_After being found guilty of heresy by the Catholic Church, Galileo Galilei was infamously placed under house arrest for the last nine years of his life. But he was far from idle during this time, writing one of the foundational works of modern science, Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences. The text includes a discussion of why it would be impossible to scale up an animal, a tree or a building to infinity. Galileo phrased it as a question of geometry – assuming a fixed shape for an object, its volume will increase at a much faster rate than its area. In practical terms, as an animal grows in size, its weight increases faster than the corresponding strength of its limbs, until the animal collapses under the force of its own weight. That’s why there could never be an animal the size of Godzilla, or Hollywood’s latest incarnation of King Kong.

In other words, there are very real constraints on how large a complex organism can grow. This is the essence of all modern-day scaling laws, and the subject of Geoffrey West’s provocative new book, Scale: the Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies. A physicist by training, West is a pioneer in the field of complexity science, and former director of the prestigious Santa Fe Institute in the US. Scale is the culmination of years of interdisciplinary research geared toward answering one fundamental question: could there be just a few simple rules that all complex organisms obey, whether they are animals, corporations or cities?

More here.