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About the Division of Physical Sciences

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

Silicon sponge improves lithium-ion battery performance

nanoscale silicon spongesThe lithium-ion batteries that power our laptops and electric vehicles could store more energy and run longer on a single charge with the help of a sponge-like silicon material.

The chemistry of lithium-ion batteries limits how much energy they can store. To increase the battery's energy capacity, researchers are looking at new materials such as silicon. Unfortunately, silicon expands as much as three times in size when it charges, creating pressure within the material that causes it to break. 

Jason Zhang and colleagues at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory wondered if a sponge-like silicon electrode would do the trick. So they approached Michael Sailor, a University of California, San Diego chemist whose research includes using porous silicon to detect pollutants and deliver drugs, for help. PNNL used Sailor's method to create porous silicon 

The team observed porous silicon electrodes made using Sailor's method mostly expanded into the empty spaces created by the material's porous structure, they report in Nature Communications. Read more.

Kamen Prize awarded for exceptional work in biochemistry

Miao-ping ChienMiao-Ping Chien and Joseph Lucas have won the 2013-2014 Kamen Prize, given for the outstanding dissertation in biochemistry defended each year at UC San Diego. Chien, who worked with chemistry and biochemistry professor Nathan Gianneschi, was recognized for her work on programming nanoparticles with DNA, peptides and enzymes. Lucas, who worked with molecular biology professor Cornelis Murre, was recognized for his work on the motion of the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus as it relates to recombination.

The prize was established in 1978 by friends and family of Martin D. Kamen, emeritus professor of chemistry, who co-discovered of carbon 14 while at UC Berkeley in the early 1940s. Kamen came to UC San Diego in 1960, where he continued important work on photosynthetic transport proteins until his retirement. He passed away in 2002.

Young professors win support for work toward tenure

Jelena Bradiing.jpgEva-Maria CollinsJelena Bradic, assistant professor of mathematics, and Eva-Maria Schoetz Collins, assistant professor of physics, have been named Hellman Fellows for 2014-2015. The fellowship program provides financial support and encouragement to young faculty in the core disciplines who show capacity for great distinction in their research and creative activities. Funds awarded support activities that will enhance the individual's progress towards tenure.

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