Theory and concepts in biology – Course and Conference Office

EMBO | EMBL Symposium

Theory and concepts in biology


This conference will take place at EMBL Heidelberg, with the option to attend virtually.

Symposium overview

Recent progress in biology has led to an explosion of factual knowledge about the living world over a huge range of scales in space and time. Yet, many questions about how to make sense of this data remain across the entire diversity of the living world from the smallest bacterium to the ecosystems of the Serengeti. This meeting aims to bring together a diverse collection of researchers interested in finding ways to parlay this ever-increasing factual knowledge into a corresponding array of conceptual knowledge. The goal of this symposium is to assemble an interdisciplinary community and to provide a platform to discuss perspectives on the role of theory in biology, and importantly also vice versa, the impact that biology can have on theory.

Please see EMBL’s COVID-19 safety recommendations if attending the on-site event.


Francis Corson

Laboratoire de Physique de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure


Frank Jülicher

Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems


Aneta Koseska

Max Planck Institute for neurobiology of behaviour – Caesar


Rita Mateus

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life


Chao Tang

Center for Quantitative Biology, Peking University


Scientific organisers

Conference organisers


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  • Please note that the programme is subject to change.
  • For registered participants, recorded talks will be accessible on demand for 2 weeks after the end of the event, unless indicated otherwise.
Day 1 – Tuesday 18 July 2023
Time (Berlin/Europe)Speaker
11:30 – 13:00Registration and light refreshments
13:00 – 17:00Chair: Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo
13:00 – 13:15Opening remarks
13:15 – 13:45Flocking across scales: from wildebeest to parasite actin
Christina Hueschen – Stanford University, USA
13:45 – 14:15Fast and cirri-ous: excitable dynamics in protists
Kirsty Wan – University of Exeter, UK
Not available on demand
14:15 – 14:30Coarse-grained representations of transcriptional enhancers
Joseph Nasser – Harvard University, USA
14:30 – 14:45A lack of distinct cell identities in single-cell measurements: revisiting Waddington’s landscape
Breanne Sparta – University of California, Los Angeles, USA
14:45 – 15:30Coffee Break and Meet the speakers of Day 1
Francis Corson, Frank Jülicher, Christina Hueschen, Kirsty Wan
15:30 – 16:00Flowing into shape: self-organized patterning and morphogenesis
Francis Corson – Laboratoire de Physique de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, France
16:00 – 16:15Are circadian amplitudes and periods correlated? A new twist in the story
Marta del Olmo – Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany
16:15 – 16:30Anchoring behavior affected by geometrical cues in the ciliate, Stentor coeruleus
Syun Echigoya – Hokkaido University, Japan
16:30 – 17:00Active Processes in Cells and Tissues
Frank Jülicher – Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Germany
17:00 – 17:30Group activity allocation
On-site participants only
17:30 – 18:30Pre-dinner drinks
18:30 – 20:00Dinner
20:00 – 22:00Group activity
Day 2 – Wednesday 19 July 2023
Time (Berlin/Europe)Speaker
09:00 – 09:15Arrival and coffee
09:15 – 10:15Chair: Virginie Uhlmann
09:15 – 09:45Growth control across scales
Rita Mateus – Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life, Germany
09:45 – 10:00A general limit for the sharpness of input-output responses grounds the Hill function in biophysical mechanism
Rosa Martinez Corral – Centre for Genomic Regulation, Spain
10:00 – 10:15Critical points in embryonic tissue organisation
Nicoletta Petridou – EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
10:15 – 10:45Coffee Break and Meet the Editors session
10:45 – 12:15Chair: Francis Corson
10:45 – 11:15The Scale Invariant Cell
Jané Kondev – Brandeis University, USA
11:15 – 11:30A feedback motif to increase sensitivity and information integration in sensory systems
Isabella Graf
11:30 – 11:45Deriving a phase diagram structure of signaling systems with the optimal trade-off between sensitivity and precision
Ka Kit Kong – Peking University, China
11:45 – 12:15Topology protects emergent dynamics in biological networks
Evelyn Tang – Rice University, USA
12:15 – 14:15Lunch
14:15-16:45Chair: Nicoletta Petridou
14:15 – 14:30Theory@EMBL: bringing theoretical approaches closer to experimental biology
Virginie Uhlman – EMBL-EBI, UK
14:30 – 15:00Non-reciprocal interactions and waves without density in flocks on manifolds
Sriram Rajagopal Ramaswamy – Indian Institute of Science, India
15:00 – 15:15Integration of contradictory signals in epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition
Yaron Antebi – Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
15:15 – 15:30The Core & Periphery hypothesis: a conceptual basis for generality in cell and developmental biology
Jonas Hartmann – University College London, UK
15:30 – 16:00Scaling dictates the decoder structure
Chao Tang
16:00 – 16:45Coffee Break and Meet the speakers of Day 2
Rita Mateus, Jané Kondev, Sriram Ramaswamy, Chao Tang, Evelyn Tang
16:45 – 17:30Group activity
On-site participants only
17:30 – 19:00Poster Session 1 (odd) with beer and snacks
19:00 – 20:30Dinner
20:30 – 22:30After-dinner drinks
Day 3 – Thursday 20 July 2023
Time (Berlin/Europe)Speaker
09:00 – 09:15Arrival and coffee
09:15 – 10:15Chair: Jané Kondev
09:15 – 09:45Model inference for living matter: from biological data to dynamical equations
Jörn Dunkel – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
09:45 – 10:00Understanding feedback control in biological systems
Mariana Gómez-Schiavon – The National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico
10:00 – 10:15Inferring the stochastic dynamics of cell shape changes during cellular state transitions
Wolfram Ponisch – University of Cambridge, UK
10:15 – 10:45Coffee Break
10:45 – 12:45Chair: Aneta Koseska
10:45 – 11:15Plant Tropisms as a Window on Plant Computational Processes
Yasmine Meroz – Tel Aviv University, Israel
11:15 – 11:30Topology and Geometry Together in Biology
Carl Modes – Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Germany
11:30 – 11:45The noisy physical cell: Vast heterogeneity in cytoplasmic diffusion rates revealed by nanorheology and Doppelgänger simulations
Rikki Garner – Harvard Medical School, USA
11:45 – 12:15Surface dynamics in living systems
Anna Erzberger – EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
12:15 – 12:45Does Biological Research Require a Hypothesis?
Raymond Goldstein – University of Cambridge, UK
12:45 – 14:15Lunch
14:15 – 15:45Group activity Hike
On-site participants only
15:45 – 16:15Coffee Break and Meet the speakers of Day 3
Jörn Dunkel, Yasmine Meroz, Anna Erzberger, Raymond Goldstein
16:15 – 17:30Group activity presentations
Only for on-site participants to present, but presentations will be live-streamed to virtual participants

Chair: Kirsty Wan
17:30 – 19:00Poster Session 2 (even) with beer and snacks
19:00 – 20:30Conference BBQ dinner
20:30 – 23:00Conference party
Day 4 – Friday 21 July 2023
Time (Berlin/Europe)Speaker
09:00 – 09:15Arrival and coffee
09:15 – 12:15Chair: Alexander Aulehla
09:15 – 09:45Basis of natural computations
Aneta Koseska – Max Planck Institute for neurobiology of behaviour – Caesar, Germany
09:45 – 10:00Dynamic instability of cell-like compartments
Jan Brugues – Technische Universität Dresden, Germany
10:00 – 10:30Latent Space modelling of biological dynamics
Paul Francois – Université de Montréal, Canada
10:30 – 11:15Coffee Break and Meet the speakers of Day 4
Hana El Samad, Paul Francois, Aneta Koseska
11:15 – 11:30A mechanochemical model for symmetry breaking in regenerating Hydra as alternative to a purely biochemical reaction-diffusion model
Sera Weevers – Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Switzerland
11:30 – 11:45Robust speed of biochemical waves reveals a general scaling relationship
Jo-Hsi Huang – Stanford University School of Medicine, USA
11:45 – 12:00Closing Remarks and Poster Prize
12:00 – 13:00Final conference lunch and departure

Practical information

Registration fees and abstract submission

On-site registration fees include admission, conference materials, COVID-19 safety measures, meals and coffee breaks. Participants are expected to book and pay their own accommodation and travel expenses.

Virtual registration fees include access to all of the talks (livestreamed and on demand) and facility to submit questions.

On-site Academia€700
On-site PhD Student€600
On-site Industry€900
Virtual Academia€200
Virtual PhD Student€150
Virtual Industry€250

NO visa support letters will be issued until payment of the registration fee is confirmed.

Accredited journalists may be eligible to register for complimentary press registration. Registrants may be required to provide accreditation or equivalent proof of press membership after registration. Please contact Charlotte Courtney for more information. Please note that we do not offer complimentary registrations for editors of scientific journals.

Confirmation and payment

Registration will be on a first come, first served basis. Your place can only be confirmed after payment of the registration fee. If you are added to our waiting list, please consider taking advantage of our offerings to participate virtually.

On-site participants: Types of payments accepted are international bank transfers and credit card payments.

Virtual participants: We are only able to accept card payments. In exceptional cases we can accept bank transfers. Please contact events@embl.de for details.

Abstract submission

Only participants registering to attend the on-site event are eligible to submit an abstract. Abstracts will not be accepted from virtual participants.

After registration you can submit your abstract via a separate link that will be provided in the email confirmation. Alternatively, you can access the link on the confirmation page directly after registering. The same login credentials are used for both processes.

Please note:

Abstract body: The limit of 2000 characters refers to manually typed text and excludes spaces. If an error occurs try using a different web browser (preferably Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox).

If you copy-paste the text into the form, hidden formatting might still be included which may cause the text to exceed the 2,000 character limit resulting in an error message. We recommend you clear all formatting before pasting in the text.

If you have special symbols in your text, make sure you are using Unicode characters, otherwise these will not be recognised.

Title: The title should not exceed 20 words. Only the first word of the title should start with a capital letter and the rest should be lowercase.

Authors and affiliations: Please fill in the author’s details as requested in the online form. The compulsory fields are: First Name, Last Name, Organisation Name (Affiliation or Company), Country and Email.

Kindly mark only one author in the role of First Author and please don’t forget to indicate who will be the Presenter.

Please enter your co-authors correctly via the system by adding accounts together with their organisation/institute. Do not copy-paste them into the body of the abstract text, as they will not be indexed in the abstract book.

Presentation types: When submitting your abstract, you can apply for an oral or poster presentation. A selection process will take place with the results announced 2-3 weeks after the abstract submission deadline.

For detailed instructions on how to submit a conference abstract, follow the instructions provided in this video.

Please check our FAQs pages for further information on how to submit an abstract.

Financial assistance

Financial assistance

Limited financial assistance is provided by the EMBL Advanced Training Centre Corporate Partnership Programme and EMBO in the form of both registration fee waivers and travel grants. These are available for on-site participants at EMBL Conferences and EMBO|EMBL Symposia, and for on-site and virtual participants at EMBO Workshops. We are currently working on securing funding for all virtual participants, and ask that you please apply for financial assistance for both on-site and virtual participation. 

Your place in the meeting is only confirmed by paying the registration fee, which is mandatory even when receiving a fee waiver.

Registration fee waiver

The fee waiver will cover the registration sum that you have paid to attend the course or conference.

Travel grant

The travel grant will cover the cost of travel to an on-site event (airfare, train, bus, taxi, accommodation, visa, and/or registration fees*) and is provided up to specified caps which are normally as follows:

–up to €400 for participants travelling to an EMBL Conference or EMBO|EMBL Symposium from within Europe.

–up to €1000 for participants travelling to an EMBL Conference or EMBO|EMBL Symposium from outside Europe.

–up to €500 for any participant travelling to an EMBO Workshop.

–up to €1000 for any participant working in Chile, India, Singapore or Taiwan travelling to an EMBO Workshop.

–up to €700 for any participant working in Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia, and Turkey travelling to an EMBO Workshop.

*Registration fees are only covered for EMBO Workshops

The organisers may reduce the grant cap to accommodate more participants. Recipients will be notified of their travel cap amount when they are informed of the outcome of their application. Original receipts must be provided with your signature for all costs incurred within two months of completion of travel. Scanned copies cannot be accepted.


On-site participants

You may apply for financial assistance when submitting your abstract. In your application you will be asked to answer questions regarding why your lab cannot fund your attendance and how your attendance will make a difference to your career. Application for financial support will not affect the outcome of your registration application.

Virtual participants

If you are attending virtually, you can apply for financial assistance in the submission portal by the abstract deadline. Read the instructions on how to apply for financial assistance. Only submissions for financial assistance will be accepted. Presentation abstracts cannot be submitted here and will be declined. 

In your application you will be asked to summarise your current work,  answer questions regarding why your lab cannot fund your attendance, and how your attendance will make a difference to your career. Application for financial support will not affect the outcome of your registration application.


The scientific organisers will select the recipients of all financial assistance during the abstract selection process. Results will be announced approximately 6 – 8 weeks before the event start date, however for some events this may be delayed. Selection results do not impact your admission to the meeting. Selection is based on scientific merit, your current work or study location, the reasons for needing financial support, and the impact this event will have on your career.


Costs will be reimbursed after the meeting only once a reimbursement form and original receipts (from travel costs) have been received.

Further details

View our list of external funding opportunities and information on attending a conference as an event reporter.

For further information about financial assistance please refer to the FAQ page.

Accommodation and shuttles

Accommodation is not included in the conference registration fee.

As further changes in our events are possible due to COVID-19, you should book flights, trains and hotels with flexible options and favourable cancellation conditions.

The hotels below have rooms on hold for participants until Tuesday 20th June 2023, in some cases at special rates. Please email the hotel directly, quoting the booking codeEES23-07 to confirm the exact price of the room.

Hotel AnlageHotel ibis HeidelbergPremier Inn Heidelberg City
Hotel Bayrischer Hof ISG Hotel Staycity Aparthotel Heidelberg
B&B HotelLeonardo Hotel Heidelberg City CentreSteffi’s Hostel Heidelberg
Exzellenz Hotel Meininger HeidelbergHotel Vier Jahreszeiten Heidelberg
Hotel Holländer Hof Hotel Monpti

Conference shuttle buses

Here is the conference shuttle bus timetable for this conference.

Conference shuttle buses are free of charge for participants, and depart from designated bus stops near the hotels to EMBL and back, mornings and evenings.

The bus stops for this conference are:

  • Hotel Staycity (Speyerer Str. 7)
  • Kurfürsten-Anlage (Opposite Main Train Station)
  • Hotel Premier (Kurfürsten-Anlage 23)
  • Leonardo Hotel Heidelberg City Center (Bergheimer Str. 63)
  • Neckarmuenzplatz (Heidelberg Tourist Information)
  • Peterskirche (Bus stop)
  • ISG Hotel (Im Eichwald 19)

View Conference shuttle bus stops and hotels in a larger map. Please note that not every bus stop will be used for every event.

Further details

Address: EMBL, Meyerhofstraße 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany. For further information on getting to EMBL Heidelberg visit Public Transportation to the Venue. For information about accommodation and local transportation please refer to the FAQ page.

Onsite information


All meals and coffee breaks are included in the registration fee. Our catering staff will prepare a wide variety of vegetarian meals, meat and fish dishes, soups, pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as a variety of desserts.

Please wear your badge at all times when serving yourself.

No food or drinks are allowed in the auditorium.

Charging lockers

There are lockers available next to the stairs leading down into the Auditorium. You will find some of those equipped with sockets to charge your smartphone/tablet etc.

Electricity and charging station

In most places the electricity is 220 volts AC (50 cycles). An adaptor and a plug that fits the German socket may be needed for your appliances/laptop (i.e. American, Japanese, etc.). A USB charging station for electronic devices is available at the registration desk.

EMBL merchandise

If you are interested in purchasing an EMBL souvenir (products presented in the glass display in the registration area), please ask at the registration desk for more information.

Health and safety notes

Please read EMBL’s COVID-19 safety policy for on-site events.
Do not smoke in any EMBL building.
Eating and drinking is prohibited in the Auditorium and all laboratories.
Do not enter any restricted areas or the laboratories unless instructed to do so.

If first aid is required …

  • The first aid room is located next to the ATC Registration Desk (room 10- 205).
  • Dial the Emergency number 222 from any EMBL internal phone only.
  • Where is the accident? What happened? How many injured?
  • Emergency number 06221-387 7821 from mobile phones.
  • Please report all accidents to the conference officer at the registration desk.

In case of fire …

  • Press the nearest fire alarm button or the Emergency number 222 from any internal phone.
  • A loud fire alarm will go off if an evacuation is required. On hearing the alarm leave the building immediately following the escape route and fire wardens and head to one of the meeting points
  • Do not use the lifts.

Beyond first aid…

Please remember to bring your own medication, if needed, to the conference. Note that the next pharmacy is a 4-minute drive from the EMBL, but for many medications you will be required to see a doctor to get a prescription.

Ensure in advance that your medical insurance will cover you during your visit in the event that you do need to see a doctor while in Heidelberg. In any case, the EMBL Course and Conference Office will assist you to get to the pharmacy and a doctor of your choice if necessary.


Wi-Fi is available everywhere on the premises using the EMBL-Events network and the event specific password, which will be provided on site. The eduroam network (secure, world-wide roaming access service developed for the international research and education community) is also available.

Lost and found

‘’Lost and Found’’ are kept at the registration desk until the end of the conference.


There are lockers available on-site to store your luggage, which require a 2 EURO coin to operate. There is another luggage room on level E0, which is free to use but remains unlocked during the conference.

Nursing room

There is a nursing room available in the ATC Rooftop Lounge on level A29.


During the conference an EMBL Photographer may be taking photographs. If you would not like to appear in these, please inform the photographer or a member of the Course and Conference Office.


We can help printing your boarding passes/train ticket. Please send it to events@embl.de and collect your print-outs at the registration desk.

Room for prayer, yoga and meditation

There is a room for prayer, mediation and yoga located on level E0 behind the Auditorium. Please be respectful of other participants using the room.


A variety of activities in Heidelberg can be found on the website of Heidelberg Marketing.

Travel to and from the venue

During the event we provide conference shuttle buses to and from EMBL. In addition, there is the public bus 39A that serves the EMBL campus and taxis can be easily booked at any time. Information on the conference shuttle buses can be found on the individual event website and more detailed information on travelling to EMBL can be found on our Travel Information page.

Useful German expressions

Where is the nearest Covid test centre?Wo ist das nächste Covid-Testzentrum?
GoodbyeAuf Wiedersehen
Good morningGuten Morgen
Good afternoonGuten Tag
Good eveningGuten Abend
Good nightGute Nacht
I’m sorryTut mir leid
Excuse me…Entschuldigen Sie
How are you?Wie gehts?
I’m fine thanks. And you?Mir geht es gut , danke, und dir/Ihnen?
What is your nameWie heisst du? Wie heissen Sie?
My name isIch heisse
Do you speak EnglishSprechen Sie Englisch?
I don’t understandIch verstehe nicht
Please speak more slowlyKönnen Sie bitte langsamer sprechen
Thank youDankeschön
Where is the toilet?Wo ist die Toilette?
Please call me a taxiBitte rufen Sie mir ein Taxi
How do I get to….?Wie komme ich zum/zur…..?
A beer/two beers pleaseEin Bier/zwei Bier bitte
A glass of red/white wine pleaseEin Glas Rot/Weisswein bitte
The menu, pleaseDie Speisekarte, bitte
Is there a local speciality?Gibt es eine Spezialität aus dieser Gegend?
I’m VegetarianIch bin Vegetarier
It was deliciousEs war hervorragend
The bill, pleaseDie Rechnung, bitte
I have a headacheIch habe Kopfschmerzen
I have a sore throatIch habe Halsschmerzen
My stomach hurtsIch habe Magenschmerzen
I’m allergic toIch bin allergisch gegen
I need a doctor who speaks EnglishGibt es einen Arzt, der Englisch spricht?
Virtual participation

What’s included?

  • Access to all the livestreamed talks
  • Video library of the recorded talks during and after the event
  • Facility to submit questions

Please note that only on-site participants are able to submit abstracts and participate in the poster sessions.

Event platform

We are using an event platform for this conference. More information about the platform will be shared ahead of the conference.


  • Do not broadcast the conference to unregistered participants.
  • You are encouraged to tweet and post about the event. Tweet unless the speaker specifically says otherwise, but be mindful of unpublished data. 
  • Please do not capture, transmit or redistribute data presented at the meeting.

Additional information can be found in our Code of Conduct.

Health and well-being

It is important to stay healthy and move around, especially when you are attending an event virtually. We have put together a few coffee break stretches and yoga videos in the conference platform for you to enjoy during the event.

How to ask questions

Please use the Q&A function in the event platform.

If you have any other questions, you can go to the Help Desk in the event platform. Click on ‘more’ on the top menu and click Help Desk. 

Time zone

The programme is planned based on the Europe/Berlin time zone, unless otherwise stated. Please take your time zone into consideration when planning your attendance.

Additional information

Please find additional information including FAQs, terms and conditions, COVID-19 safety policy and travelling to EMBL on our Information for Participants page.

COVID-19 related questions

COVID-19 information for onsite events at EMBL Heidelberg can be found in our COVID-19 FAQs.


Media partners

Development, a The Company of Biologists journal

EMBO reports, an EMBO Press journal

International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Open Biology, a Royal Society journal


Sponsorship opportunities

We offer a variety of event sponsoring possibilities, with the flexibility to select a set sponsorship package or combine individual sponsorship options to suit your event budget. Discounts are available for companies sponsoring multiple events at EMBL Heidelberg. View other conferences, or contact sponsorship@embl.de for further information.

If you are interested in becoming a media partner of this event, please visit our media partnerships webpage.


EMBL wishes to warn sponsors of EMBL conferences and courses of fraudulent schemes purporting to offer sponsorship opportunities on behalf of EMBL or affiliated with EMBL officials. One current scam campaign of which we are aware is conducted using the name ‘Judy Eastman’ (judy@gopcontact.a2hosted.com) and entails approaches to sponsors offering sponsorship opportunities on EMBL’s behalf. Please be kindly advised that all relevant communication regarding sponsorship of EMBL conferences, symposia and courses is handled by EMBL directly and is sent from an official EMBL account. EMBL does not work with any external providers on sponsorship acquisition.

Please also note that:

  • EMBL never provides attendee lists for purchase. Any offers of such are fraudulent.
  • EMBL will never call or email you to ask for your credit card details or to request a payment.
  • All payments are on invoice.

Suspicious communications purportedly from, for or on behalf of EMBL should be reported to EMBL at the following email address sponsorship@embl.de.


EMBO | EMBL Symposia promote scientific communication and collaboration in the European research area. They provide scientists with a platform to discuss and exchange ideas on forward-looking topics and new developments in the life sciences.

Topics emphasise upcoming developments and the interdisciplinary nature of related fields. Jointly funded and organised by EMBO and EMBL – and complementary to their respective courses, workshops, and conference programmes – the symposia promote scientific communication and collaboration.

All symposia are held in the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) in Heidelberg, Germany, or virtually.

Media kit

Want to let others know you’re attending this event? Take a look at our shareable media and feel free to use them in your social media channels or presentations.

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Date: 18 - 21 Jul 2023

Location: EMBL Heidelberg and Virtual

Venue: EMBL Advanced Training Centre


Abstract submission: Closed

Registration (On-site): Closed

Registration (Virtual): Closed


  • Alexander Aulehla
    EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
    • Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo
      Pompeu Fabra University, Spain

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