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News from the Physical Sciences

polarized CMBEarly success for POLARBEAR

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

The report 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.

POLARBEAR measures remnant radiation from the Big Bang, which has cooled and stretched with the expansion of the universe to microwave lengths. This cosmic microwave background acts as an enormous backlight, illuminating the large-scale structure of the universe and carrying an imprint of cosmic history. Read More.

Data-sharing deal struck with drug companies

Pharmaceutical companies will collaborate with researchers at UC 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. Rommie Amaro and Victoria Feher in the department of chemistry and biochemistry and Michael Gilson, professor of pharmacy, will lead the project. 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.

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.

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.

strain on a single particle of an electrode in a lithium ion battery as it discharges

Imaging reveals strain of charge cycles in single particles of electrode

Using a novel technique called coherent X-ray diffractive imaging, Andrew Ulvestad, Andrej Singer and colleagues mapped the three-dimensional strain in individual nanoparticles in within the electrodes of working batteries. In two papers recently published in Nano Letters, they report evidence that the history of charge cycles alters the patterns of strain in single particles of the electrode material. The greatest strain occurs just before the particle changes structure as the ions depart. This new approach will help to reveal fundamental processes underlying the transfer of electrical charge, insight that could help to guide the design of economical batteries with longer useful lives. Read more.

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