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From sub-atomic to astronomical scales, we are working on the frontiers of science. Founded by Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, our departments have all played a central role in UC San Diego’s rapid rise to national and international prominence.

A tradition of bridging boundaries long before interdisciplinary research became fashionable has allowed us to probe fundamental questions at the intersections different branches of science and mathematics and to create new fields of study. Because mathematics and the physical sciences are fundamental to many pursuits, including engineering, medicine and biology, we contribute to the education of most undergraduate students at UC San Diego.

News from the Physical Sciences

Cancer training program has supported 300 trainees in 30 years

Daniel Donoghue, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and provost of Sixth College, directs the program, which has just received renewed funding from the National Cancer Institute through 2019.trainees and program administratorsLeft to right: Annie Chou, predoctoral trainee; Laura Castrejon, program coordinator; Daniel Donoghue, program director; David Cheresh, vice-chair of the executive committee; Juliati Rahajeng, postdoctoral trainee; Amy Haseley Thorne, postdoctoral trainee; Jasmine Wang, program webmaster.


Real-time readout of neurochemical activity

Scientists have created cells with fluorescent dyes that change color in response to specific neurochemicals. By implanting these cells into living mammalian brains, they have shown how neurochemical signaling changes as a food reward drives learning.

These cells can detect small amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine with fine resolution in both location and timing. Dopamine has long been of interest to neuroscientists for its role in learning, reward, and addiction.

“Dopamine serves as the key indicator during almost all aspects of learning and the formation of new memories,” said physics professor David Kleinfeld, who directed the work. “Disruptions to dopamine signaling lie at the heart of schizophrenia and addiction.” More.

structures of switches in hepatitis C and Seneca Valley virus

Viral switches share a shape

A hinge in the RNA genome of the virus that causes hepatitis C works like a switch that can be flipped to prevent it from replicating in infected cells. Scientists have discovered that this shape is shared by several other viruses—among them one that kills cancer cells.

That’s Seneca Valley virus, which seems harmless to healthy human cells but lethal to cancer stem cells.

<p">Chemistry and biochemistry professor Thomas Hermann’s research group has determined the molecular structure of this critical switch in the Seneca Valley virus and found that it matches the L-shaped switch in hepatitis C virus, which his group had previously described. Read more.
micrograph of self-assembled cell membranes

Cell membranes self-assemble

A self-driven reaction can assemble phospholipid membranes like those that enclose cells

Neal Devaraj, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at UC San Diego, leads a research team that develops and explores new reactions that can trigger the formation of membranes, particularly the spheres that characterize membranes that enclose vesicles and cells.

The new process they have just described is specific and non-toxic, and can be used in the presence of biomolecules one might want to study within artificial cells. The technique could also be used to assemble packets for drug delivery. 

Read more.

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