Energy and time determine scaling in biological and computer designs

Melanie Moses, George Bezerra, Benjamin Edwards, James Brown, Stephanie Forrest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Metabolic rate in animals and power consumption in computers are analogous quantities that scale similarly with size. We analyse vascular systems of mammals and on-chip networks of microprocessors, where natural selection and human engineering, respectively, have produced systems that minimize both energy dissipation and delivery times. Using a simple network model that simultaneously minimizes energy and time, our analysis explains empirically observed trends in the scaling of metabolic rate in mammals and power consumption and performance in microprocessors across several orders of magnitude in size. Just as the evolutionary transitions from unicellular to multicellular animals in biology are associated with shifts in metabolic scaling, our model suggests that the scaling of power and performance will change as computer designs transition to decentralized multi-core and distributed cyber-physical systems. More generally, a single energy–time minimization principle may govern the design of many complex systems that process energy, materials and information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150446
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1701
StatePublished - Aug 19 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Computer architecture
  • Evolutionary transitions
  • Metabolism
  • Networks
  • Scaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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