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Latest News from the Biophysics & Soft Matter Group...



...........Watch this Space!



The year ended in busy style, was great to have Marjorie back in Palmy for a bit, and together with Rob and Allan some good progress was made on the measurement of forces between colloidal particles. Small moves - but we have learned alot this year.......Brad spent some time up with Yacine Hemar in Auckland, attending a workshop on Large Amplitude Oscillatory Rheology, but also using the rheometry gear up there to perform some interesting experiments on the acid-pectin gels system that he has been carrying ot microrheology experiments on...good stuff......and as if that isn't enough, we have Jessie Owen back with us for the summer and Lisa has made some great progress with expressing some fungal PME.......Mmmmmmmm...PME!......

Suggested Captions for these final photos of the year to Bill by email.......





A very big welcome to Christina Efthymiou and Luigi Sasso this month. Christina will be based at Victoria Univeristy of Wellington in Kate McGrath's group where she will be carrying out research towards a PhD, while Luigi is a postdoctoral fellow based in Christchurch at Canterbury University with Juliet Gerrard's group. They will both be working closely with Sandy on the "Mesocule" project, trying to understand how the moleclar properties of biopolymers manifest in the macroscopic world. Great to have them on board! and has been great to have Christina visiting Palmy already and to meet Luigi at the MacDiarmid Postodoc and Student Symposium held in Christchurch this month. In their spare time Christina loves drinking Tequiia listening to Aqualung, while Luigi bakes to Bowie and Floyd....

Not to be outdone, despite waiting for his Visa, Pablo Hernandez...the final member of the "Mesocule" team, spent a few days with Erich Schuster in Goteburg this month to hear "from the horse's mouth" about Erich's simulation work on biopolymer networks that earned him his PhD. Thats dedication!!!....especially with the price of beer in Scandanavia!








A big welcome to Sandy Suei who has started with the group this month as a Postdoctoral Fellow. She will be working on a project sponsored by the MacDiarmid and Riddet Institutes looking at using the Optical Tweezers for examining the mechanical properties of hierarchical structure elements such as protein fibrils. Not to be confused with Sandy Sue the International Feng Shui Master, when she isn't peering down a microscope Sandy enjoys, among other things, watching the Magnificent Manchester United...

..and talking of football, congratulations to Davide-England-Shirt-Wearing-Mercadante, who has successfully passed his PhD viva. Been great to work with Davide, needless to say I quite liked what we did on PME!..



Manohar and Brad also successfully negotitated their first-year PhD confirmations, and we thought it only fitting to celebrate all the recent comings and goings and progressions in the group with ....a chilli-eating competition. While Ian started looking the most confident he was soon seeking out the smallest room in the house, and with Brad bleeding through his eyes it seemed that Chris - aided it should be said by several tubs of Tip-Top was the dark horse....




The month started well with the successful installation of a pellicle beamsplitter into our micoscope optical-train allowing us to maintain a low-magnification image of our microfluidics experiments from one side, while simultaneously performing higher magnification imaging and trapping from the other. Eager to continue showcasing our intellectual prowess we partied with Jess and impressed her family by making rude words out of the cup-cake periodic table she had lovingly baked.

Bill gave a number of talks including an IFS public lecture, a talk to the University of the Third Age and a presentation to the Riddet Institute, all highlighting that Biology and Physics really are BFFs.

The group also hosted the Victoria NMR group for a day, having enjoyable discussions on, among other things, soft matter and shear banding; as well as having Charith down from Laurie Melton's group in Auckland for a week to do some experiments exploring how the fine structure of pectin affects its interaction with protein fibrils. Mmmmmm...pectin..........



Well done to Chris for winning a prize for the best Pecha-Kucha presentation of his work on the stability of nucleotides at high pressure in the IFS Postgraduate Symposium. He also surpassed himself this month by building a trebuchet for use at the University Open Day.

A big welcome back to Rob Ward this month who hascome back out of retirement to take up a postdoctoral position with the group, working on an exciting PGP project. Here he is before and after his weekly shave.




Its great to report that Davide's first publication on beta-lactoglobulin was not only published in the prestigous Biophysical Journal this month, but it made the cover.....and a Blog no less!

blgDavide Mercadante explains the featured cover of the July 18 issue of Biophysical Journal. He is a fourth-year student at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, from Naples, Italy. Mercandante has recently submitted his PhD dissertation and has begun looking for a post-doctoral position. The cover image is from the article Bovine β-Lactoglobulin Is Dimeric under Imitative Physiological Conditions: Dissociation Equilibrium and Rate Constants over the pH Range 2.5 to 7.5, by authors Davide Mercadante, Laurence D. Melton, Gillian E. Norris, Trevor S. Loo, Martin A.K. Williams, Renwick C.J. Dobson and Geoffrey B. Jameson.

The image was composed in two phases. First, the electrostatic potentials for bovine beta-lactoglobulin A were calculated and visualized by coloring the protein surface by the electrostatic potential and representing the electric field using field lines. Considering that the research has been carried out through a combined experimental and theoretical approach, we wanted to make sure that not just the computational part of our study was represented in the image. Therefore, on the white background we decided to insert samples of sedimentation velocity and sedimentation equilibrium curves, fitted in order to reveal the oligomerization behavior of beta-lactoglobulin A. The collage of the different bits, experimental and computational, gave us the results we wanted.Essentially, the nature of our results prompted us to create and submit a cover art image. The investigation of the electrostatic properties of macromolecules has a strong visual component that is very often conducive to art work. Science is as much about images as it is about numbers.

The image does not only reflect our scientific research. IT IS our scientific research. The image is not separated from the research, and can be considered as our best attempt to visualize and transmit the significance of our investigation. You could crop the different parts of the image, insert them into a paper, and they would make perfect sense.Electrostatic properties of macromolecules are, almost by definition, very difficult to treat computationally. However, the calculations performed in order to elucidate such properties have an enormous communicative power as they combine many strategies used by artists to describe and communicate the world around them. For example, a wide range of colors is employed in combination to the visualization of macromolecular structures. The analytical ultracentrifugation data, where colors represent time, show the collective macroscopic behavior of macromolecules in ultra-strong gravitational fields, behavior determined by the microenvironment of the individual molecules. Connecting the microscopic to the macroscopic, and vice versa, has a very strong artistic potential. The feeling of having our image chosen for the cover can be simply expressed in two words: successful and rewarded. We feel successful because the final aim of any scientist is, on one side, the satisfaction of our curiosity about the world, and on the other, the transmission of such curiosity to other people through the published article. The cover image of a book or a journal conveys information but also plays to the emotions of the potential buyer and reader. Having this image selected for the cover of Biophysical Journal provides recognition that our research will encourage more people to read the contents of Biophys J, which has a top role in diffusing molecular biophysics across the scientific community. The publication of our research on the cover is a reward to the passion we invest to conduct our research every day and to transmit its significance among other scientists.Sometimes scientists and artists are the same thing. This was more commonly accepted and represented in the ancient cultures (mostly during the Renaissance). In many cases, the scientist was also an inventor, a sculptor or a painter. Nowadays the two figures are well separated – probably because science is often considered as too “brainy” to be art. However, science and art are probably not too far apart in reality. Art is the representation of concepts that strongly recall emotions and has a small rational component. Science, on the other hand, has a bigger rational component but I, as a scientist, feel exactly like an artist when conducting research. The quantity and quality of the emotions felt are exactly the same kind and have the same power.





The (surprising?) exit of the English football team from the Euros on penalties (mmm..thats never happened before) and the actually quite suprising exit of the Dutch, were bemoaned by Bill and JP.... and after a sterling job on his placement with us Jean-Pierre returned to Holland to graduate. Great to have you in the group JP - we hope to see you back in NZ some day!





We were however cheered by the obervation of the transit of Venus, which was (between clouds!) a mega-cool thing to see. Bill and Brad worked on some images taken concurrently in NZ and in the States by Steve Chadwick, and calculated the astronomical unit (once called the noblest problem in astronomy!) to amazing accuracy!





It was great to have a flying visit from Jonny The-Peanut-Butter-Magnate Hunt in May, before he gets his hair cut and starts a real job. He could tell us what his job involves, but then he'd have to kill us. But its in San Diego...and its to do with computers, and brains...

Was also great to have Jane Allison in Palmy for a day to talk about her work using computer simulations to study protein dynamics.




The middle of the month sees the group taking an Easter trip down to the worlds coolest capital-Wellington to catch up with the NMR Group to talk about their work on the Marsden-funded project that we are involved with:

Rheo-NMR of Non-Equilibrium Transitions in Complex Fluids

The work concerns the use of advanced Rheo-NMR methods to study shear banding fluctuations in micellar, polymeric and soft glassy systems, combining our ability to image fluid velocity fields at high movie frame rate, along with the localised measurement of molecular parameters related to molecule orientation, rotational dynamics and self-diffusion rates. There is wide scientific interest in such capability and part of this programme will involve the building of a prototype instrument for potential commercialisation.

Bill, Allan, Brad, Lisa and Jessie also got to a attend a Microfluidics Conference..and hear some interesting talks, from watching the deformation of red blood cells to using microfluidic drops as analysis chambers...

Microfluidics 1Microfluidics 2



PN and the Riddet Institute hosted a Food Structure Design Conference this month where Bill and Marjorie presented some of the groups work on network models and droplet interactions. It was great to get our good friend Milena Corridig to talk to the group meeting about the work of her group in Guelph while she was in NZ - although her infectious enthusiasm played havoc with the lab instruments!.






OK, so I can't waterski! But some fishing served to recharge the batteries. We returned to PN to take part in a one day Plant and Food Symposium and were happy to have Erin O'Donoghue to talk to our group meeting again about the work she has been doing on the microstructure-function relationships in petals. Amazing multifacetednanostructured surfaces!



Jessie has gone back to her studies for now, but did a great job over the summer and we hope to have her back with us at some point in the future... (good luck with third year and hope that listening to Lisa and Brads's topical debates has opened your eyes to some quality science!)



Was good to have Marj back for a flying vist although experiments were somewhat hampered by a dodgy QPD amplifier (now happily replaced!). The CE has been working flat out this month with Lisa and Jessie continuing to work on enzyme digests; and some exploratory work being carried out on resolving RNA oligomers. The month ended in style with Brad and his parents kindly hosting the group at their bach up on lake Rotoiti...simply awesome. Here are Marj, Jessie and Brad waterskiing and Bill elegantantly watersitting...









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