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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

Dimitri Basov awarded $1.8 million grant for experimental research in quantum materials

Dimitri Basov, professor and chair of the department of physics, has been named a Moore Experimental Investigator in Quantum Materials by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The award of $1.8 million is meant to allow outstanding physicists to pursue ambition, high-risk research, including the development of new experimental techniques. The program is part of the Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems Initiative, which aims to facilitate scientific breakthroughs by giving some of the field’s most creative scientists the freedom to take risk and the flexibility for agile change of research direction, and providing them with an environment that encourages collaboration with other leading researchers.

UV light splits atoms of nitrogen gas

Nitrogen fingerprint in biomolecules could be from the early sun

Chemical fingerprints of the element nitrogen vary by extremes in materials from the molecules of life to the solar wind to interstellar dust. Ideas for how this great variety came about have included alien molecules shuttled in by icy comets from beyond our solar system and complex chemical scenarios. Now experiments using a powerful source of ultraviolet light have shown that no extra-solar explanation is needed and the chemistry is straight forward. Read more.

enzymes modify DNA and the proteins it wraps around

Program predicts placement of chemical tags that control gene activity

Biochemists have developed a program that predicts the placement of chemical marks that control the activity of genes based on sequences of DNA. Read more.

Rommie Amaro$9M for biomedical computation

UC San Diego's National Biomedical Computation Resource has received $9 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to continue its work connecting biomedical scientists with supercomputing power and emerging information technologies. 

“As scientists, we are very good at looking at particular components of the human body within a single scale, but we ultimately need to connect across three or four scales in order to model and understand complex biological phenomena from the molecular level all the way up to the whole organ,” says director Rommie Amaro, associate professor of chemisty and biochemistry. 

Amaro cites the example of cross-disciplinary work of Michael Holst in mathematics, Mark Ellisman in neurosciences, Andrew McCammon in chemistry and Andrew McCulloch in bioengineering, as well as visualization specialists at The Scripps Research Institute who are collaborating to develop new technologies that will help scientists understand the causes of heart failure. 

The team develops models of patients' hearts to analyze what happens at the organ level when a heartbeat becomes irregular. These models are connected to images of the macroscopic units that regulate calcium (and thus heart beats). Delving more deeply reveals defects in molecular components that interact with calcium. They visualize these models at multiple scales using state-of-the-art software. 

“The tools allow researchers to follow a hypothesis all the way from the whole organ, through to the level of cells, and, deeper still, connecting all the way down to the protein or small molecule level,” Amaro says. Read more.


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Keith Brueckner

Keith Brueckner, founding chair of physics, has died

Keith Brueckner, University of California, San Diego's founding physicist, died September 19. He was 90.

Brueckner's career encompassed research accomplishment, academic leadership and service to the nation. Read more.