The inside of a living cell is spatially organized into different functional structures called organelles. For example, the nucleus is a membrane bound compartment that contains the cell's DNA, while the cytoskeleton is made up of dynamic protein fibers which allow cells to move and change shape.
Gulliver noticed 140 years ago that the size of the cell's nucleus is proportional to the size of the cell. Similar observations have been made about other micron-sale structures within the cell. These experiments suggest that cells measure and control the size of their organelles, and they raise a simple question: How does the cell establish a micron-scale ruler with nothing more at its disposal than nanometer-sized molecules that diffuse around the cell and on occasion bump into each other? In this talk I will describe quantitative experiments and related theory that are beginning to reveal general principles of how cells control the size of their organelles.