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Stoner Colloquium

3 December 2015

Dr Paul Collier, Head of Beams at CERN was the School of Physics and Astronomy’s invited speaker to give a Stoner Colloquium.

Paul’s background is in Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering, he studied his Undergraduate degree here at University of Leeds and has since studied and worked at Sheffield Hallam, so it was good to be able to welcome him back to Leeds.

Dr Collier spoke about ‘The LHC: Past, Present and Future’, and received a fantastic turnout from across the University and elsewhere.

Dr Collier also gave an alumni talk the following day to a variety of undergraduates, postgraduates and postdocs and highlight the relevant opportunities at CERN.

The next Stoner Colloquium will be on Tuesday 8th March 2016 and our invited speaker is Professor Julia Yeomans from University of Oxford.

Supercoiled DNA is far more dynamic than the “Watson-Crick” double helix

15 October 2015

Researchers have imaged in unprecedented detail the three-dimensional structure of supercoiled DNA, revealing that its shape is much more dynamic than the well-known double helix.

Various DNA shapes, including figure-8s, were imaged using a powerful microscopy technique by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in the US, and then examined using supercomputer simulations run at the University of Leeds.

As reported online in the journal Nature Communications, the simulations also show the dynamic nature of DNA, which constantly wiggles and morphs into different shapes – a far cry from the commonly held idea of a rigid and static double helix structure. Dr Sarah Harris from the School of Physics and Astronomy led the computer simulation research side of the study and explained that this is because the action of drug molecules relies on them recognising a specific molecular shape – much like a key fits a particular lock.

The double helix shape has a firm place in the public's collective consciousness. It is referenced in popular culture and often features in art and design. But the shape of DNA isn’t always that simple.
Dr Harris said, “When Watson and Crick described the DNA double helix, they were looking at a tiny part of a real genome, only about one turn of the double helix. This is about 12 DNA ‘base pairs’, which are the building blocks of DNA that form the rungs of the helical ladder.

“Our study looks at DNA on a somewhat grander scale – several hundreds of base pairs – and even this relatively modest increase in size reveals a whole new richness in the behaviour of the DNA molecule.”

There are actually about 3 billion base pairs that make up the complete set of DNA instructions in humans. This is about a metre of DNA. This enormous string of molecular information has to be precisely organised by coiling it up tightly so that it can be squeezed into the nucleus of cells.
To study the structure of DNA when it is crammed into cells, the researchers needed to replicate this coiling of DNA.

Improving our understanding of what DNA looks like when it is in the cell will help us to design better medicines, such as new antibiotics or more effective cancer chemotherapies.

See the full story…

Prof Gleeson gives Inaugural Lecture

12 October 2015

Prof Helen Gleeson OBE, Cavendish Chair and Head of School elect gave her Inaugural Lecture on 7 October, 2015, entitled 'Looking through the Liquid Crystal Ball'.

Helen was appointed as Cavendish Professor of Physics at the beginning of 2015, becoming the first woman to hold the position, and will take over as Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy in September 2016

Helen heads up the Soft Matter Physics research group at Leeds and the focus of her lecture was her work on liquid crystals.

'We are all familiar with the concept of materials as solids, liquids or gases. Another state of matter, the liquid crystal phase, discovered well over 100 years ago, is responsible for revolutionising our lives in recent years. Liquid crystal devices (LCDs) have allowed the development of mobile technology and have fundamentally changed society. It’s now hard to imagine life without LCDs.”

In her talk Helen described some of the unique features of liquid crystals, explaining how the combination of order, fluidity and functionality is used in technology and by nature, and went on to provide an insight into the future by ‘looking through a liquid crystal ball’! This covered some of the new liquid crystal phases with nanostructures that offer completely new electro-optical phenomena and Helen speculated on some of the emerging non-display applications of liquid crystals, showing that understanding the physics of liquid crystals is both intellectually stimulating and could offer new practical solutions for the future.

You can see Helen’s full lecture presentation here…

1851 Industry Fellowship

1 October 2015

Congratulations to Devesh Mistry, a postgraduate student in the School who has been awarded the prestigious 1851 Industrial Fellowship.

This is an incredible achievement for Devesh as only 8 awards are presented each year to first class graduates in Science, Engineering or Medicine.

Devesh, who is funded by the EPSRC, is using novel new liquid crystalline materials to develop a synthetic replacement for the crystalline lens of the eye to mitigate age-related deterioration of vision. The aim is for the focus of the lens to be controlled by the muscles in the eye, in a similar manner to the natural young lens. The developed lens could be surgically implanted to offer an accommodative effect similar to the young eye.

Inspired by a desire to work at the frontiers of technology, Devesh graduated with a 1st class MPhys degree from the University of Oxford in 2014. He is now beginning the second year of his PhD at the University of Leeds. His research is collaborative with the University of Manchester and is sponsored by UltraVision CLPL, a company specialising in advanced contact lenses.

Devesh will be presented with the award on 14th October in London, by Jo Johnson, the newly appointed Minister for Universities and Science.

Planet-hosting star gives up its innermost secrets

15 September 2015

Astronomers have successfully peered through the ‘amniotic sac’ of a star that is still forming to observe the innermost region of a burgeoning solar system for the first time

In a research paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of astronomers describe surprising findings in their observations of the parent star, which is called HD 100546. Emission from the innermost part of the disk of gas that surrounds the central star has been detected for the first time. Unexpectedly, this emission is similar to that of ‘barren’ young stars that do not show any signs of active planet formation.

HD 100546 is a young star (only a thousandth of the age of the Sun) surrounded by a disk-shaped structure of gas and dust, called a ‘proto-planetary disk’, in which planets can form. Such disks are common around young stars, but the one around HD 100546 is very peculiar: if the star were placed at the centre of our Solar System, the outer part of the disk would extend up to around ten times the orbit of Pluto.

Lead author of the research paper Dr Ignacio Mendigutía and a co-author, Professor Rene Oudmaijer, both from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Leeds, believe that these observations of the inner disk of gas in the HD 100546 system, are beginning to help us to understand the earliest life of planet-hosting stars on a scale that is comparable to our Solar System.

Read more…

The image shows an artist's impression ofthe star called HD 100546 (shown in blue, bottom-right). The gravitational influence of a planet could be boosting a transfer of material from the gas-rich outer part of the proto-planetary disk that surrounds the star to the inner regions.

Credit: David Cabezas Jimeno (SEA)

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