The Biophysical Society Logo: Random or Profound?

Today was my last day at the Biophysical Society Meeting and I have to say that I truly enjoyed my first experience at this conference! I’m used to the American Chemical Society National Meetings, which are significantly larger, so this was a nice change of pace. Blogging was definitely a new facet to a scientific conference for me, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them!

I wanted to bring up an amusing question that someone mentioned to me earlier this week and see if it boggles your minds as much as it did mine! I attended the New Member Coffee break on Monday since I just recently joined the Biophysical Society and a relatively new PI at my table brought up a question he hadn’t managed to find an answer to…

What does the Biophysical Society logo represent?

We’ve all seen it – horizontal lines sandwiching the name of the society – and it’s even in the banner for this blog at the top of the page. Does anyone actual know the origin of the logo, though? Is there a significance behind the design or an interesting history that explains its look? I tried Google-ing it and came up with nothing!

Since I had absolutely no idea what the logo meant, I decided to take up the task of unofficial investigator and I promised the initial question poser that I would blog about it so his question could reach a larger audience. For the last two days, I have been asking people at random what they think the logo represents and I got an interesting array of responses! The most amusing thing I noted was that everyone had their own unique interpretation – I kid you not, I did not have a single idea given to me more than once! Below is a list of some of the answers I got from new and old members alike:

1. An hourglass energy landscape
2. Artistically enhanced error bars
3. Noise
4. A poorly drawn Jablonski Diagram
5. A rotational-vibrational spectrum
6. Representation of the number of subgroups you can join
7. Loop and beta-sheet structure representations
8. A free induction decay
9. Single molecule FRET data
10. Random scribbles the society founder drew when drunk
11. “Old school DNA sequencing thingy”
12. Absolutely nothing

I hate to disappoint, but I never found someone who actually knew the answer! That’s kind of wonderful if you think about it. Just take a look at those responses… you can see the expertise of some people poking through. We have some physical chemists, NMR spectroscopists, structural biophysicists, single-molecule experts, and a class of folks with a great sense of humor. The interpretations I received seemed to be biased, in a sense, by the way each person viewed science. Whatever “lens” we use to see the world of biophysics trains us to approach problems in a particular way and view the results with unique perspective. Maybe that’s the point of an ambiguous logo. It’s nothing and everything all at once depending on who happens to be looking at it. Isn’t that a lot like this particular field we all love so much? You might view a certain biological phenomena one way and I might disagree, but that’s the point. That’s how discoveries continue and our knowledge evolves. We come up with answers, but there has to be someone out there who remains skeptical. It keeps us honest and makes it possible for us to rewrite textbooks when old ideas turn out to be wrong or incomplete.

…or maybe the logo really is just a set of horizontal lines that looked neat. That’s a bit anti-climactic, though, so I think I’ll stick with my idealized view of it representing the beautiful, multi-faceted nature of biophysics. I think that meshes quite nicely with the enormous diversity of research that culminated at this conference and the vast array of viewpoints I’m sure many of you heard with regards to your own research at your poster session or talk.

Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments if you have an idea about the logo’s meaning or actually know the answer!