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News from the Physical Sciences

Structures associated with memory sprout in response to drug candidates

Chemists at UC San Diego have designed a set of molecules that promote microscopic, anatomical changes in neurons associated with the formation and retention of memories.

These drug candidates also prevent deterioration of the same neuronal structures in the presence of amyloid-beta, a protein fragment that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

Breathing is a rhythm for life, and more

Respiration is more than just an essential rhythm for life. A new study by Martin Deschênes and David Kleinfeld, a professor of physics, has found that rhythmic neural patterns that control breathing also coordinate movements of muscles on the mouth and face that serve a variety of sensory, ingestive and social behaviors.

Circuits that control breathing are essential to coordinating other motor activity, such as whisking and sniffing, across the right and left sides of the body, they report in the journal Neuron, and inhibition by that same breathing circuit controls other motions by rhythmic suppression. 

Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust Gives $125,000 for Sally Ride Scholarship

Long after her first flight into space, the late astronaut Sally Ride remained dedicated to science education and protecting the environment. Now, a new scholarship at the University of California, San Diego will help continue her legacy by supporting the next generation of Earth’s stewards. The Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust has made a $125,000 gift to establish the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust Endowed Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Science in Honor of Dr. Sally Ride.

How Hydra opens its mouth

A team of biologists and physicists at UC San Diego has uncovered in detail the dynamic process that allows the multi-tentacle Hydra, a tiny freshwater animal distantly related to the sea anemone, to open and close its mouth.

The researchers report their findings in the current issue of Biophysical Journal. They say their discovery not only solves a long-standing puzzle of how Hydra feeds, but also enabled them to address a complex phenomenon in a living animal using relatively simple physics.

Clear view

Clear images of minute packages meant to shield healthy cells from potent anti-cancer drugs have helped researchers evaluate a promising of new approach to chemotherapy. To protect healthy tissues from the harm of chemotherapy, researchers wrapped drug particles in protective membranes, then turned to a team led by Elizabeth Villa to see how well their procedure worked. Reika Watanabe used cryoEM to capture images of the particles to reconstruct the structures in three dimensions. Read more.

Space dust

Karin Sandstrom, assistant professor of physics, studies the interstellar medium - the dust and gas in galaxies and between stars, and especially how ultraviolet light interacts with soot-like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

That, she says, is key to everything - how stars (and planets) form, how galaxies evolve, and perhaps how life emerged. Watch video.

Molecular Avalanche

Palladium, unlike any other element, takes up hydrogen at room temperature and pressure.

Oleg Shpyrko's group and colleagues have determined how uptake of hydrogen changes the atomic structure of the palladium through an 'avalanche' of strain and identified key properties of how this form of hydrogen storage could work in the future. They report their work in Nature Communications.

Star role models

Shelley Wright, Quinn Konopacky and Karin SandstromShelley Wright, Quinn Konopacky and Karin Sandstrom, astrophysicists recently hired as assistant professors of physics in the Division of Physical Sciences and the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, are giving humanity a view of the universe as it’s never been seen before.

They’ve joined four other female physics professors—Alison Coil, Eva-Maria Collins, Olga Dudko and Elizabeth Jenkins—as important mentors and role models. Read more.

Rising stars

Emily PayneAt a time when women remain underrepresented in the sciences and a student can still complete a physics degree without taking a class in her major led by a female professor, UC San Diego welcomed nearly 200 students to a conference for undergraduate women in physics.

"We wanted to provide an opportunity to make connections," said Emily Payne, a fourth-year physics major who led the local organizing committee. "What I mean by that is not so much networking to find jobs, but to create a community." Read more.

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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