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News from the Physical Sciences

Marvin GoldbergerMarvin Goldberger, physicist and former dean of natural sciences, dies at 92 

Marvin L. "Murph" Goldberger, an emeritus professor of physics who was dean of UC San Diego’s Division of Natural Sciences from 1994 to 1999, following a prominent career that included working on the Manhattan Project and serving as the president of Caltech, died Nov. 26 in La Jolla.

Frequently sought after on the UC San Diego campus for his sage advice on issues ranging from academe to science policy, Goldberger—who was appointed a professor of physics at UC San Diego in 1993 and retired in 1999 as an emeritus professor—often returned to campus to have lunch with faculty, many of whom had become long-time friends. More.

galaxies collide Galactic blowout: Stellar winds expel fuel for future stars

Stars igniting at rates rarely seen in a distant, massive galaxy are blowing cold, dense gas tens of thousands of light years into space, depleting the galaxy's supply of stellar fuel. The loss will limit future star birth, a driver of galactic aging for which evidence has been mounting. Read more.

Cancer training program has supported 300 trainees in 30 years

Daniel Donoghue, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and provost of Sixth College, directs the program, which has just received renewed funding from the National Cancer Institute through 2019.trainees and program administratorsLeft to right: Annie Chou, predoctoral trainee; Laura Castrejon, program coordinator; Daniel Donoghue, program director; David Cheresh, vice-chair of the executive committee; Juliati Rahajeng, postdoctoral trainee; Amy Haseley Thorne, postdoctoral trainee; Jasmine Wang, program webmaster.


Real-time readout of neurochemical activity

Scientists have created cells with fluorescent dyes that change color in response to specific neurochemicals. By implanting these cells into living mammalian brains, they have shown how neurochemical signaling changes as a food reward drives learning.

These cells can detect small amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine with fine resolution in both location and timing. Dopamine has long been of interest to neuroscientists for its role in learning, reward, and addiction.

“Dopamine serves as the key indicator during almost all aspects of learning and the formation of new memories,” said physics professor David Kleinfeld, who directed the work. “Disruptions to dopamine signaling lie at the heart of schizophrenia and addiction.” More.

structures of switches in hepatitis C and Seneca Valley virus

Viral switches share a shape

A hinge in the RNA genome of the virus that causes hepatitis C works like a switch that can be flipped to prevent it from replicating in infected cells. Scientists have discovered that this shape is shared by several other viruses—among them one that kills cancer cells.

That’s Seneca Valley virus, which seems harmless to healthy human cells but lethal to cancer stem cells.

<p">Chemistry and biochemistry professor Thomas Hermann’s research group has determined the molecular structure of this critical switch in the Seneca Valley virus and found that it matches the L-shaped switch in hepatitis C virus, which his group had previously described. Read more.
micrograph of self-assembled cell membranes

Cell membranes self-assemble

A self-driven reaction can assemble phospholipid membranes like those that enclose cells

Neal Devaraj, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at UC San Diego, leads a research team that develops and explores new reactions that can trigger the formation of membranes, particularly the spheres that characterize membranes that enclose vesicles and cells.

The new process they have just described is specific and non-toxic, and can be used in the presence of biomolecules one might want to study within artificial cells. The technique could also be used to assemble packets for drug delivery. 

Read more.


Moth Math

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

Moths use pheromones to locate their mates. Yet when these chemical odors are 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.

Now physicists led by Massimo Vergassola have figured out the mathematics underlying this feat. More.

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.

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