Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Final Packard highlights + amusing article

One of my former professors, Michael Peskin, has a nice article about why the LHC will not destroy the earth. He taught me graduate-level mechanics, and my brain still hurts from his take-home final.

A last few things I learned at the Packard meeting:
  • The stickleback is a very useful fish for addressing the question, if natural selection removes variation in phenotypes, then why do we still see so much variation?
  • There are structures on the membranes of many cells (the primary cilium; the protein known as rhomboid) that seem to have really profound effects on many cellular processes. Understanding how and why they do what they do demonstrates why systems biology is hard.
  • It may be possible to do some kind of "safe" cryptographic key exchange based on functions that are not algebraic (as opposed to usual RSA-type encryption which is based on the asymmetry in difficulty between multiplication and factorization).
  • There are deep connections between random permutations and the distribution of the number of prime factors.
  • It's possible to run live small animals (zebrafish, c. elegans) through microfluidic assay systems in massively parallel fashion.
  • Stem cell differentiation can apparently be influenced by the mechanical properties (e.g., squishy vs. hard) of the substrate. Weird.
  • Artificial sieve structures can be very useful for electrophoresis of long segments of DNA.
  • There may be clever ways to solve strongly correlated electronic structure problems using tensor networks.
  • Natural synthesis of useful small molecules (e.g., penicillin, resveratrol) is pretty amazing. Makes me want to learn more about bacteria, actomycetes, and fungi.
  • By clever trading of time and statistics for intensity, 3d superresolution imaging is possible under some circumstances.
  • DNA can be used as a catalyst.
  • Some bacteria in biofilms secrete molecules that look like antibiotic byproducts, but may actually serve as a way of carrying electrons long distances so that the little buggers far from the food source can still respirate.
  • Virus chips are awesome.
  • Don't ever get botfly larvae growing in your scalp. Ever.
  • Tensegrity structures can be very useful for biomimetic machines.
  • Sub-mm arrays are going to be a boon for astronomy.
  • It looks like much of the Se and Br in the universe was actually produced by the same compact object mergers that give short gamma ray bursts.
  • Dark energy remains a major enigma in physics and astrophysics. It's a big one.

1 comment:

Brad Holden said...

I was so bummed I could not tag along this year