UC San Diego SearchMenu

News from the Physical Sciences

UC San Diego's 'Physics Girl' wins national competition

Dianna CowernAn energetic young physicist who works as an outreach coordinator at the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences uses her upbeat and sometimes wacky personality to communicate physics to the public with videos that are not only informative, but also fun and cool.

Dianna Cowern was awarded the top video prize in a national science communications competition by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at SUNY Stonybrook for her entertaining YouTube production explaining the physics of color.

Relaxation helps pack DNA into a virus

virus empty and filled with DNADNA packs more easily into the tight confines of a virus when given a chance to relax, a new series of experiments have found. 

DNA is a long, unwieldy molecule that tends to repel itself because it is negatively charged, yet it can spool tightly. Within the heads of viruses, DNA can be packed to near crystalline densities, crammed in by a molecular motor.

“These are among the most powerful molecular motors we know of,” says Douglas Smith, a professor of physics whose group studies how viruses assemble by isolating components of this system to watch single molecules in action. Read more.

symmetric graphs

New analysis eliminates potential speed bump in quantum computing

A quantum particle can search for an item in an unsorted 'database' by jumping from one item to another in superposition, and it does so faster than a classical computer ever could. This assertion assumes that the particle can directly hop from any item to any other, in a structure with global symmetry. Other structures were thought to slow down the search.

Now researchers have used a physics technique in a novel way to prove that local symmetry is sufficient to speed up the search. Read more.

Mario Molina awarded UCSD Medal

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla presented Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Mario Molina with the UCSD Medal, the highest honor the university bestows and one that has only been presented 10 times, mostly to visiting heads of state. Read more.

Huan Tran telescope; CMB imageRadiation from early universe found key to answer major questions in physics

Astrophysicists have measured the minute gravitational distortions in polarized radiation from the early universe and discovered that these ancient microwaves can provide an important cosmological test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

These measurements have the potential to narrow down the estimates for the mass of ghostly subatomic particles known as neutrinos. 

The radiation could even provide physicists with clues to another outstanding problem about our universe: how the invisible dark matter and dark energy, which have been undetectable through modern telescopes, may be distributed throughout the universe. Read more.

population map of MilanPhone calls reveal population patterns that census miss

It's no surprise that official tallies of the inhabitants of a city miss many residents. Not everyone wishes to be counted, particularly not those who lack legal permission to be there, and censuses are infrequent, if they happen at all. Yet a measure of human density and distribution could help urban planners, whose work would also benefit from knowledge of population on scales far finer than the size of a census tract — the size of a city block, for example.

An interdisciplinary team from our department of mathematics and the UC Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation has used data from 600 million cell-phone calls to paint a picture of the population of Milan, a project that made it into the top 10 of more than 650 entries in a recent big data competition. Read more.

Chemist elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Clifford Kubiak, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's most prestigious honorary societies.

Kubiak develops catalysts for reactions that could be used to wring liguid fuel from sunlight in a system of artificial photosynthesis. That work is part of a broader program to understand how electrons are transferred at the molecular scale, which could pave the way for the development of molecular electronic devices. Learn more about the Kubiak research group.

fragile X protein bound to ribosomeDiscovery could lead to novel therapies for Fragile X syndrome

Scientists studying the most common form of inherited mental disability—a genetic disease called “Fragile X syndrome”—have uncovered new details about the cellular processes responsible for the condition that could lead to the development of therapies to restore some of the capabilities lost in affected individuals.

In a paper to be published in Molecular Cell, a group led by Simpson Joseph, professor of chemistry and biochemistry shows how the fragile X mental retardation protein, which is in short supply in individuals with Fragile X, affects the protein-making structures of cells in the brain to cause the disease. Read more.

Kiran KedlayaMathematician awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

Professor Kiran Kedlaya has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, to further his work in number theory, one of the most classical branches of mathematics.

The award will support a project that explores computational aspects of the Langlands program, a grand unifying framework - akin to the Standard Model in particle physics - that incorporates much of the progress in number theory as in the late 20th century, The Langlands program is not always completely precise in its predictions, however. To address that shortcoming, Kedlaya will be leading a research program to develop new computational infrastructure for making and testing precise predictions in the context of the Langlands program at ICERM in fall 2015.

polarization patterns in CMBProbing aerosols one by one

Aerosols are the wild cards of climate models. They reflect sunlight back into space, absorb radiation and seed clouds. Climate scientists think that aerosols have a net cooling effect, but uncertainties in their estimates are so large no one really knows for sure. Scientists with the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate & the Environment, directed by atmospheric chemist Kimberly Prather, study the composition of individual aerosol particles so that they may be incorporated effectively in climate models. Read more in Chemical and Engineering News.

For older stories please visit our news archive.

News Contacts

Kim McDonald
(858) 534-7572

Susan Brown
(858) 246-0161

News Archive

Discoveries and major awards from the past three years. For older stories contact one of us or search the campus news site.


To subscribe to our quarterly newsletter e-mail scinews@ucsd.edu.

brown dwarf starWill our star die alone?

Adam Burgasser's recent art project asserted that it will. We know of no companion star.

But Burgasser tells ABC radio our sun could have a cool, dim, distant partner that we just haven't found yet.