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News from the Physical Sciences

Kamen Prize awarded for exceptional work in biochemistry

Miao-ping ChienMiao-Ping Chien and Joseph Lucas have won the 2013-2014 Kamen Prize, given for the outstanding dissertation in biochemistry defended each year at UC San Diego. Chien, who worked with chemistry and biochemistry professor Nathan Gianneschi, was recognized for her work on programming nanoparticles with DNA, peptides and enzymes. Lucas, who worked with molecular biology professor Cornelis Murre, was recognized for his work on the motion of the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus as it relates to recombination.

The prize was established in 1978 by friends and family of Martin D. Kamen, emeritus professor of chemistry, who co-discovered of carbon 14 while at UC Berkeley in the early 1940s. Kamen came to UC San Diego in 1960, where he continued important work on photosynthetic transport proteins until his retirement. He passed away in 2002.

Young professors win support for work toward tenure

Eva-Maria CollinsJelena Bradiing.jpgJelena Bradic, assistant professor of mathematics, and Eva-Maria Schoetz Collins, assistant professor of physics, have been named Hellman Fellows for 2014-2015. The fellowship program provides financial support and encouragement to young faculty in the core disciplines who show capacity for great distinction in their research and creative activities. Funds awarded support activities that will enhance the individual's progress towards tenure.

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.


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(858) 534-7572

Susan Brown
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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.