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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


Moth Math

The way in which male moths locate females flying hundreds of meters away has long been a mystery to scientists.

Researchers know the moths use pheromones to locate their mates. Yet when these chemical odors are widely dispersed in a windy, turbulent atmosphere, the insects still manage to fly in the right direction over hundreds of meters with only random puffs of their mates’ pheromones spaced tens of seconds apart to guide them.

“The male moths are flying toward females integrating all of this information along the way and somehow getting to them,” said Massimo Vergassola, a professor of physics at UC San Diego.Read More.


Early success for POLARBEAR

Cosmologists have made the most sensitive and precise measurements yet of the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.

The report, published October 20 in the Astrophysical Journal, marks an early success for POLARBEAR, a collaboration of more than 70 scientists using a telescope high in Chile’s Atacama desert designed to capture the universe’s oldest light. Read More.

Data-sharing deal struck with drug companies

rommie_amaroPharmaceutical companies will collaborate with researchers at the University of California, San Diego to provide previously unreleased proprietary data for drug discovery through a new $3.7 million effort funded by the National Institutes for Health. The project, which is led by UC San Diego principal investigators Rommie Amaro, Victoria Feher and Dr. Michael K. Gilson, includes a major subcontract to Rutgers University, directed by Dr. Stephen K. Burley of the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank.

The data provide atomic details of drug mechanisms and will be used to improve computer-aided drug-design methods and thus accelerate drug discovery.Read More.

visiting students explore physics demonstrations

Native American students explore physics on visit to UC San Diego

More than two dozen Native American students explored light, sound, momentum and more in a morning of physics in Mayer Hall this summer.

The visit was part of a program called Intertribal Youth that seeks to empower Native American youth by providing access to world-class universities, environments, professionals and mentors. Ramin Skibba, a postdoc with UC San Diego’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences and a volunteer for the event, provides this account.

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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Dean's Office

Recent Awards

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 ambitious, 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.

David Kleinfeld awarded NIH Brain Initiative grant

David Kleinfeld, a professor of physics and neurobiology, and colleagues Martin Deschênes of Laval University, Yoav Freund of CSE and Martyn Goulding of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will deconstruct the neuronal circuits in the brainstem that control orofacial and exploratory actions. These circuits underlie complex motor synergies, such as the coordination of breathing with tongue, jaw, larynx and neck movements that underlie vocalization. The team will exploit the advent of molecular and genetic tools to mark cells based on their lineage, phenotype and connections, and use methods from machine learning and image processing to generate anatomical wiring diagrams for the brainstem circuits. The award will total approximately $2.8 million for three years.

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