Research and art - taken to heart

Wednesday 15th October 2014 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00

Professor Peter Kohl, Chair in Cardiac Biophysics and Systems Biology, Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute

The perpetual motion of a fist-sized muscle in the chest, synonymous with life itself, has been at the heart of countless works in the arts and the sciences. We explore some of the models that have been drivers of imagination and thought and illustrate the state of the (he)art.



Scientifically viewed, the heart is a chemically powered, electrically controlled, mechanical pump, but the way in which it performs is nothing short of amazing.

Heart structure and function are tightly interrelated in ways that we are still discovering. Cardiac muscle hosts a multitude of complex regulatory mechanisms that allow the heart to perform even after transplantation into another body and multiple feedback mechanisms provide the heart with an astonishing ability to adapt to the body’s constantly changing demand in blood circulation. This happens during every heartbeat and roughly a million times during every ten-day period of our life.

Perhaps more than any other organ, the heart has fascinated thinkers and scientists through the millennia. Indeed, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who studied the organ forming in chick embryos, concluded that it was the seat of intelligence, motion, and sensation. Of course we now know that consciousness arises in the brain; nevertheless the allure of the heart remains strong in the public’s imagination, while research continues apace.

For Professor Peter Kohl (National Heart & Lung Institute) – head of the Cardiac Biophysics and Systems Biology group at Imperial – part of the mystique lies in the fact that the heart is self-regulating and propagates its own electrical activity.

 “It’s an absolutely magical organ; the fact that the heart can continue to beat once taken out of the body, for example during transplantation, is quite amazing really,” he says. “Of course, we can explain this, but I think it’s fair to be thoroughly impressed by the functionality of an organ that has the ability to beat, once every second or so, for 60, 70, 80 years. If it stops, life ends. It cannot afford to have the same number of breakdowns as a car has.”

Peter’s group is a multidisciplinary one with a diverse array of research projects incorporating aspects of clinical medicine, systems biology, physics and engineering.

Peter Kohl holds the Chair in Cardiac Biophysics and Systems Biology at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute. He also is a visiting professor at the Department for Computer Science at the University of Oxford.

Peter studied Medicine and Biophysics at the Moscow Pirogov Institute and after post-graduate training and research at the Berlin Charité he joined the Cardiac Electrophysiology Chair of Professor Denis Noble at the University of Oxford. In 1998, Peter set up the Oxford Cardiac Mechano-Electric Feedback lab, initially as a Royal Society Research Fellow and subsequently as a Senior Fellow of the British Heart Foundation.


This event is being promoted as part of Biology Week beginning 13 October 2014. Biology Week takes place each October, organised by the Society of Biology. Events around the country give everyone the chance to learn about biology and we are delighted to be part of this celebration of all aspects of the biosciences.

Optionally followed by supper (this can be booked on the event booking form).
After the lecture a Friends' Table has been reserved at a local restaurant to entertain the speaker and for any of the audience who would like to join us to continue the evening's discussion. A two-course fixed price supper is served including wine, coffee and service charge.
Or if you have already booked for the event and now want to join us for supper Book Supper now

Venue: SAF Building, Imperial College London

Campus Map reference 33
on the Imperial College London Map