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News from the Physical Sciences

Patrick Sanan, who studied mathematics at UC San Diego, combined geometry, physics, and the tiger model from the movie "Life of Pi" to work on a computer graphics problem.

Nanoparticles play with light to create color

Inspired by the way iridescent bird feathers play with light, scientists have created thin films of material in a wide range of pure colors with hues determined by physical structure rather than pigments.

Chemists synthesized and assembled nanostructures of synthetic melanin that mimic melanosomes found in the feathers of some birds. The material bends and reflects light to amplify some wavelengths and dampen others, creating color without pigment. Learn more.

Active matter

Jérémie Palacci and colleagues have created microbe-sized beads that utilize energy in their environment to self-propel upstream by purely physical means.

Their creation is a step toward the realization of biomimetic microsystems with the ability to actively respond to environmental changes. 

Learn more

Polyols from algae to ply ocean waves

Undergraduate students in the Biofuels Awareness and Action Network worked out the chemistry to create polyols from oils produced by algae.

Mixed with a catalyst and silicates in the right proportions, the polyols expand to form polyurethane foam. Polyols from algae were recently used to make the first algae-based foam cores for surfboards.

 Learn more.

tagged proteins anchored to a vesicle membraneOrganizing synthetic cells

With a tag, an anchor and a cage that can be unlocked with light, chemists have devised a simple, modular system that can locate proteins at the membrane of a cell.

“If you’re trying to emulate the way nature does this, you need a lot of complex machinery,” said Andrew Rudd, a graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry.

Rudd sought something simpler. He works with Neal Devaraj, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry whose group has been working toward the creation of artificial cells from scratch in part by finding minimal ways to create biological structures. More.

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