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In the 1980s, Forgacs traveled from campus to campus in the United States and Europe, avoiding the politics and impoverished laboratories of Hungary. Then, in 1990, while in the United States, a biologist friend invited Forgacs to his lab to consult. He became hooked on the subject.

Forgacs went back to school to learn biology at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts and finally, to Princeton University. When he was beginning this new career, it was fairly uncommon for physicists and biologists to talk much to each other. He recalls having trouble engaging other biologists at Princeton.

"They'd say something like, 'You know, physicists are really smart people, but I've got to go now,'" Forgacs says. "I had to convince people that I knew about biology. It's common now, but then I was an oddball."

 

"Nowadays, physicists and biologists are talking to each other. They should. But there is still a vocabulary gap."

Forgacs has tried to help bridge that gap by co-authoring, with Stuart Newman, Biological Physics of the Developing Embryo, a textbook that discusses physical principles essential to biology. "I take the attitude, 'Why separate those things?' That's an artificial separation," he says.

Meanwhile, Forgacs sees more physicists like himself flocking to biology. One reason is financial. Federal funding for the life sciences skyrocketed in the 1990s, outpacing growth in the physical sciences, he says.

Another reason is intellectual. Biology has progressed to the point where it is asking questions that physicists find irresistible. "Biology is made up of self-organizing systems that have so many variables, so many feedback systems," he said. "It's just damn complex."

While working 18-hour days, Forgacs still makes room for other aspects of his life. Every 10 days he travels to Potsdam, N.Y., where his wife, Marta, a pediatrician, still maintains her practice.

While in New York he's completed the New York City Marathon five times, including a race that he ran with his son, Andras, who lives in the city. While not quite in marathon condition right now, Forgacs may try running the marathon a sixth time. After all, he says, physicists love challenges.

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