Will Alien Life Resemble Us (and How Could We possible Know)? Astrobiology, Evolution and the Amino Acids
Dr. Stephen Freeland
University of Hawaii
A fundamental challenge for astrobiology is to establish the relative contributions of chance versus predictability in the origin and evolution of life on our own planet. Thus, for example, all Earth-life creates metabolism from an interacting network of protein molecules that catalyze various biochemical reactions. Furthermore, early during evolution it had arrived at a standard set of 20 amino acid building-blocks with which to build each of these proteins. We now have good reason to think that many of these amino acids are formed in significant quantities throughout the galaxy - but so are many others - so would alien life be like us, and how could we possibly know?
Using molecular simulations to understand allosteric inhibition of the Hepatitis C viral polymerase
Dr. Ian Thorpe
The general term "allostery" is often used to refer to processes which allow an event at one location in a macromolecule (such as a protein) to alter the properties of another location in that macromolecule. Allostery is important because it allows macromolecules such as proteins to sense and respond to their environment, providing a way to regulate their functional characteristics. Thus, understanding the physical principles which underlie allostery can be of significant utility in understanding how proteins and other macromolecules function. Allostery can occur because distant regions of a macromolecule are structurally connected, potentially allowing information to be communicated over long distances within the molecule. Allosteric inhibitors of the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) found in Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) have been identified which bind to the enzyme distant from the site of catalysis. The manner in which these ligands inhibit the enzyme is not well understood. I will describe efforts in my research group to understand the link between ligand binding and allosteric inhibition in RdRp by using molecular simulation methods to describe the structure and dynamics of this enzyme. The knowledge gained as a result of this study can improve our understanding of allosteric regulation of enzyme function and the manner in which the process may be modulated by small molecules. In addition, these studies may foster the development of new treatments for HCV infections.
Dr. Bernard Kelly
"Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is our best classical description of gravity, and informs modern astronomy and astrophysics at all scales: stellar, galactic, and cosmological. Among its surprising predictions is the existence of gravitational waves -- ripples in space-time that carry energy and momentum away from strongly interacting gravitating sources. In my talk, I will give an overview of the properties of this radiation, recent breakthroughs in computational physics allowing us to calculate the waveforms from galactic mergers, and the prospect of direct observation with interferometric detectors such as LIGO and LISA."
“The Beginnings of Everything: from the Big Bang to Planets”
Dr. John Mather
The history of the universe in a nutshell, from the Big Bang to now, and on to the future – John Mather will tell the story of how we got here, how the Universe began with a Big Bang, how it could have produced an Earth where sentient beings can live, and how those beings are discovering their history. Mather was Project Scientist for NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which measured the spectrum (the color) of the heat radiation from the Big Bang, discovered hot and cold spots in that radiation, and hunted for the first objects that formed after the great explosion. He will explain Einstein’s biggest mistake, show how Edwin Hubble discovered the expansion of the universe, how the COBE mission was built, and how the COBE data support the Big Bang theory. He will also show NASA’s plans for the next great telescope in space, the James Webb Space Telescope. It will look even farther back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will look inside the dusty cocoons where stars and planets are being born today. It is capable of examining Earth-like planets around other stars using the transit technique, and future missions may find signs of life. Currently planned for launch in 2014, the JWST may lead to another Nobel prize for some lucky observer.
Ultra-high Resolution Functional Spectral-Domain Optical Coherence Tomography for Real-Time 4-D Imaging
Dr. Jin U. Kang
Optical coherence tomography has become a high-resolution, high-speed, and versatile tomographic imaging modality along with technological developments in high-performance optical sensors: CCD and CMOS cameras, high-quality, and low-coherent light source, such as ultrafast laser or superluminescent emission diodes (SLED). Due to superior imaging speed and higher sensitivity, Fourier domain OCT (FD OCT) is gradually supplanting time domain OCT (TD OCT) in most applications. We have been developing Spectral domain-based FDOCT (SD OCT), one subcategory of FD OCT for microsurgical applications. Surgeons require both physical and optical access to tight surgical space in order to perform microsurgery on delicate tissues such as retina. Our research effort is directed at providing microsurgeons with OCT based real-time high-resolution 4-D visualization that will enhance their ability to achieve surgical objectives, diminish surgical risk, and improve outcomes. Compared to other image-guiding modalities such as MRI, CT, and ultrasound, OCT is more compact and portable, allowing for integration with surgical tools. In this talk I will discuss challenges in achieving high resolution (~1 micron), high-speed (10 frames/s) functional 4-D SDOCT along with various hardware and signal processing methods we have developed to overcome the challenges.