Watt W. Webb’s scientific career was a series of triumphs over challenges to make difficult measurements of important physical and biological phenomena: “impossible problems of experimental physiology,” as he described them (1). A common theme was his use of light microscopy in new ways to reveal equilibrium and dynamic properties in biomolecular systems and in organisms. Webb’s deep understanding of physics directly contributed to new instruments and methods for detecting and interpreting the hitherto undetectable and undecipherable. Webb and his collaborators opened approaches adopted far and wide to investigate important questions in areas of physics, biology, biochemistry, and biophysics. Webb was born on August 27, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri. He entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 16, where he majored in business and engineering administration. He then worked as an industrial engineer at Union Carbide. During that period, he resumed studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and by 1955 had completed a Doctorate of Science in materials science physics and mathematics. Watt W. Webb. Image credit: Cornell University, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND. Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing through the early 1970s, Webb contributed to a wide variety of physics topics, including crystal growth and dislocations, magnetization, continuous transitions at critical liquid–vapor interfaces, and fluctuations in superconductors. Even at this early stage in his career, Webb showed an interest in statistical fluctuations, albeit in quantum systems, statistical noise, and phase transformations that prefigured his later work on more biologically oriented areas. Webb’s entry into biophysics in the early 1970s was driven by a tantalizing challenge: How to measure the kinetics of chemical reactions without displacing them from equilibrium. Even in equilibrium the concentrations of chemical reactants fluctuate spontaneously about their equilibrium values. The reaction kinetics could be determined from the time courses of these tiny … [↵][1]1Email: elson{at}wustl.edu. [1]: #xref-corresp-1-1

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