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News from the Physical Sciences

Inventions for a safer, healthier world recognized

Michael Sailor, a leader in silicon nanotechnology who holds 26 U.S. patents, has been elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Sailor, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemisty, carefully structures porous silicon on a nanometer scale to address such divergent goals as the safer, targeted delivery of powerful therapeutics to rechargeable batteries with higher capacity and longer life. Learn more.

Precise constraints on primordial magnetism

The POLARBEAR experiment reports the most precise constraint of primordial magnetic fields measured to date, a window onto the some of the fundamental physics of the early universe. The paper, publisehd in the journal Physical Review D, has been chosen as an "Editor's Suggesion."

Learn more about physics professor Brian Keating's group's quest to unveil the state of the universe at the beginning of time here.

Why ferment when there's plenty of oxygen?

Fermentation is a great way to generate energy in the absence of oxygen, but it's much less efficient than aerobic respiration and generates considerable metabolic waste, such as lactic acid. Yet some bacteria, fungi and other fast-growing cells use this form of anaerobic respiration even when oxygen is plentiful, and for a long time biologists have wondered why these organisms use such an apparently wasteful approach.

A new accounting of the energy budget by a team of physicists and biologists led by Terry Hwa found that when you add the metabolic cost of synthesizing the enzymes and other required cellular apparatus to the value of the sugars in and energy out, fermentation makes sense for fast-growing cells, including cancers. More>>

Physicists predict mechanics of touch

A sense of touch mediates much of our interaction with the world beyond our skin.  By turning the mechanical energy of things that impinge on the skin into electrical signals within the nervous system, a variety of structures sense events that range from the faint brush of a breeze to the sharp pain of a cut.

Massimo Vergassola, a theoretical physicist with an interest in how organisms use sensory systems to navigate their world, wondered what physical system might underlie a particularly intriguing neural response to touch in C. elegans. He and graduate student Alessandro Sanzeni developed a physical model that accounted for experimental observations and predicted additional properties of this sensory system. More>>

Mathematician honored for major contributions to algebraic geometry

James McKernan, professor of mathematics, will share the 2016 E.H. Moore Research Article Prize given by the American Mathematical Society for work cited as a "watershed" in algebraic geometry, a branch of mathematics that investigates connections between numbers and shapes. With a pair of papers published in the Journal of the AMS in 2010, McKernan and co-authors Caucher Birkar of the University of Cambridge, Paolo Cascini of Imperial College London, and Christopher Hacon of the University of Utah made a major stride in advancing the "minimal model program," which seeks a way of classifying algebraic varieties by finding representations that are in some sense the simplest.

Brushing up peptides boosts their potential as drugs

Peptides promise to be useful drugs, but they're too easily digested and can’t get into cells without help.

Now Angela Blum and Jaquelin Kammeyer, working with chemistry professor Nathan Gianneschi, show that rearranging peptides into dense brushes can protect them from digestion and ease them into cells without changing their biological function. Read more.

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