THE BIOLOGICAL PHYSICIST Ros and Sara Vaiana, are experimentalists and have newly renovated labs adjacent

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    The Newsletter of the Division of Biological Physics of the American Physical Society

    Vol 8 No 5 Dec 2008

    In this Issue FEATURE Arizona State University’s Center for Biological Physics..2

    CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENT 2009 Gordon Conference on Nonlinear Science…………..8

    PROGRAM/WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT Morphodynamics at the Kavli Institute…….…..…………..9

    DBP ANNOUNCEMENT Student Travel Grants……………………………..…………10

    CALLS FOR PAPERS Neuron-Glia Interactions……………………………………11 Boundaries of Brain Information Processing…………..…12

    PRL HIGHLIGHTS…………..…………..………..……...…..……13

    PRE HIGHLIGHTS…………..…………..………..……...…..……17

    JOB ADS…………………………………………………………20



    Chair James Glazier

    Chair-Elect Stephen Quake

    Vice-Chair Herbert Levine

    Secretary/Treasurer Thomas Nordlund Past Chair Dean Astumian Division Councillor

    Robert Eisenberg

    Members-at-Large: Réka Albert

    Brian Salzberg

    John Milton

    Jin Wang

    Daniel Cox

    Tim Newman

    ------------------------------------------ Newsletter Editor

    Sonya Bahar


    This issue of THE BIOLOGICAL PHYSICIST brings you a special visit to the Center for Biological Physics at Arizona State University, and an interview with Center Director Timothy Newman. We also bring you some important announcements of conferences and workshops, the announcement of the 2009 Shirley Chan Student Travel Grants, calls for papers, PRE and PRL highlights, and job ads. Happy New Year! – SB

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    The Arizona State University Center for Biological Physics is a major research center in our field. Currently directed by Timothy Newman, with the assistance of Program Coordinator Jill Kolp and Program IT Support Analyst Kirill Speranskiy, the CBP is home to a large number of scientists at the forefront of many different aspects of biological physics. We talked with Center Director Timothy Newman about the history of the Center, the current research there, and its directions for the future. What is the history of the CBP? Can you describe the Center's original "vision", and how that has evolved and changed over the years? The CBP was officially accredited by ASU in early 2006, but we had existed as a “center with a small c” since 2004. The ASU Physics Department had a small but vibrant biophysics group for many years, under the leadership of Stuart Lindsay. I was hired in 2002 as the first recruit in an intense expansion process which has boosted the number of full-time biological physics faculty in the department to nine, making us one of the largest such groups in the US. A key senior hire was that of Michael Thorpe in 2003. Mike brought a vision of creating a physical center, and had the resources to really get the ball rolling. Mike was the founding director of the CBP from its inception until summer 2008. Our vision was and is to be the intellectual focus of biological physics on campus, to be a center of excellence at the national level, with the wider purview of integrating disparate areas of the biosciences through the common desire of biologists in these areas to work more closely with quantitative scientists such as physicists. What are the faculty interactions like within the CBP? Do many of the faculty members collaborate with each other, and/or do they have

    outside interdisciplinary collaborations? How many departments are involved in CBP? We have 16 core faculty (whose research interests are listed below), all of whom have either home or affiliated appointments with the Department of Physics. The main disciplines represented are Biological Physics and Biochemistry. The faculty interactions within the CBP are close-knit and collegial. We have one formal faculty meeting each year, mainly for long-term planning purposes. However, we meet informally twice a week at our organized events – the biological physics seminar and the weekly “chalk talk.” All of our events are heavily attended by faculty members and students, which is a sign of true intellectual engagement in biological physics. All of our faculty members have at least one “outside collaboration” – typically with life scientists. We do have a number of internal collaborations also, for example Kong-Thon Tsen and Otto Sankey are collaborating on a fascinating project involving the destruction of viruses using ultrashort laser pulses, and John Spence and Petra Fromme (and others) are collaborating on a highly ambitious project to determine the structure of single protein molecules suspended in water droplets, using femtosecond X-ray pulses. This latter project is known locally as “diffract and destroy” and raises new questions in fundamental physics, thus folding in the interests of other physics faculty, such as theorist Kevin Schmidt and experimentalist Bruce Doak. How many graduate students are conducting their PhD studies within the CBP? Do they receive mainly degrees in Physics, or in other disciplines? Our website lists about 50 graduate students who have varying degrees of affiliation with the CBP. About half of these students see the CBP as their academic home. The CBP has dedicated open-plan


    Arizona State University’s Center for Biological Physics

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    office space for students, which really encourages interactions across research groups via student discussions. Students receive degrees in Physics and Biochemistry in about equal numbers. We are currently debating whether to establish a PhD in Biological Physics. A number of such programs are springing up across the US. The advantage of such programs is that one can attract students from a more diverse set of backgrounds, and provide a more open-ended and interdisciplinary curriculum compared to a Physics PhD program. That said, the ASU Physics PhD has itself been recently modernized (by me, in my previous administrative role as Director of Graduate Studies) with first-year research rotation projects and a more flexible curriculum, so we have mixed feelings as to whether to establish an additional program. ASU has a strong graduate physics program, and the quality of students we have attracted in recent years is very high. We aim to graduate our students within five years, and many have gone on to professional careers in the wider bioscience arena. What interdisciplinary courses are offered by CBP, or by members of CBP? Have you seen demand for these courses grow over the years? We offer two specialized courses in biological physics and are planning on offering a third in 2009, thus providing graduate students (and advanced undergraduate students) with a significant three-course sequence covering broad areas of biological physics. The curricula for these courses are fluid, and are determined mainly by the interests of the person teaching the course. I have taught the first course in the sequence for the past four years, and essentially made it a “biology for physicists” course, as many of our students get excited by biological physics without having a strong background in biology. I am passionate that biological physicists should be well-educated in biology, especially with regard the “big picture,” so they can explain the biological (as well as the biophysical) rationale for why, for example, a particular bio-molecule is under study. Our biological physics courses have been popular since their inception, routinely attracting class sizes of twenty or more students.

    What is the Center's "philosophy" of biological physics? Do you see "biophysics" as a separate discipline? In 2003, the biophysics faculty (five of us at that time) sat in my office and discussed teaching a course in biophysics. What emerged from that discussion has essentially set the tone for how we regard “biophysics”, or rather its modern incarnation as “biological physics.” In a nutshell, we didn’t think it compelling to teach a set of lectures on traditional topics of biophysics per se – we wanted to be more broad and interdisciplinary. In our philosophy of biological physics, we place a very strong emphasis on connecting physics to biology, rather than abstracting pieces of biology and “doing physics on them.” We also place strong emphasis on biological physics not just being performed at the molecular level. Evolution as a process connects all scales in biology, and it makes sense to bring physics to biology with this rationale firmly at the front of one’s thinking. To be sure, many of our faculty members perform research on molecular biology topics, but we also have strong emphases at the scale of viruses, cells, and, in my own research, on embryonic systems and population biology. We have a strong interest in our future hires being speciali