Physics Department Launches Resource Room for Free Undergraduate Tutoring

20 09 2013


For the first time this fall the Physics Department is offering free tutoring for all undergraduate physics courses. The Physics Resource Room, Abelson-Yalem-Bass 403, is open Sunday through Friday afternoons, and in the early evening Monday through Thursday. Manned by physics graduate students and advanced undergraduate physics majors, it will serve primarily students in the introductory courses Physics 10, 11, 15, 18, and 19, but students from upper-level courses will also be welcome to find help there. The exact hours will vary with the semester, but it is anticipated that about 35 hours per week of tutoring will be offered. The current schedule for the resource room is available on the physics department website. Further information may be obtained from the Physics Undergraduate Advising Head, Professor David Roberts, at

Quantum Field Theory: An Interdisciplinary Study Group

16 09 2013

William Hicks, a grad student in Physics, writes:

    This semester, graduate students from a wide range of departments will be coming together to study quantum field theory (QFT) as part of the interdisciplinary IGERT program. QFT is a subject whose mathematical underpinnings crop up in a wide range of seemingly unrelated fields, and the study group hopes to take advantage of the varied backgrounds of its members. Mathematicians in the group can help provide mathematical rigor, while physicists can help supply the physical intuition for many of the otherwise abstruse corners of the subject.  Students from other disciplines will be able to broaden the discussion by showing how some of the techniques discussed also show up in their fields.

The study group will meet from noon to 1:00 every Wednesday in Goldsmith 226. All are welcome!

Professor Sciolla wins grant from the US-Israel Binational Foundation

21 08 2013

Prof. Gabriella Sciolla (Brandeis) and Prof. Yoram Rozen (Technion) received a cooperative research grant by the US-Israel Binational Foundation. The 4-year grant will allow the Brandeis and Technion groups to continue their investigation of the properties of the Higgs boson in the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. In particular, the Brandeis-Technion team is responsible for measuring the so-called “couplings of the Higgs boson”, meaning how often a Higgs boson is produced in the fusion of two vector boson particles (like W or Z bosons) instead of being produced by the collisions of two gluons.  The measurement of the couplings of the Higgs gives us important clues on the nature of the newly-discovered particle.

IGERT Summer Institute

23 07 2013

 The Brandeis IGERT program is hosting its first summer institute starting Wednesday, July 31 and running weekdays through Friday, August 9. This will be a series of lectures by experts inside and outside of Brandeis, together with some student seminars, aimed at graduate students across the sciences, especially (but not exclusively!) those doing theoretical work.

The lectures will run from 9:30-4 every day, with coffee at 9am, and ample time between lectures for questions and conversations.  They will be held in room 055 of the Lemberg Academic Center (note that Domenic’s will be open at that time, so lunch is available nearby).  Those interested in attending should RSVP to Tony Bottaro ( so that we can get a head count for coffee.

The lecturers are:

Parongama Sen (University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India), lecturing on applications of statistical physics to social science problems.
Henry Cohn (Microsoft Research, New England), lecturing on symmetry and optimization.
Ben Allen (Emmanuel College and Harvard), lecturing on evolutionary dynamics
Paul Miller (Brandeis), lecturing on aspects of theoretical neuroscience.
Blake LeBaron (Brandeis), lecturing on empirical puzzles in financial data, and applications of agent-based modeling.
Albion Lawrence (Brandeis), lecturing on fiber bundles (“gauge theory”) and their applications to deformable bodies (falling cats, swimming bacteria).

In addition, we will have seminars by IGERT students:

Sumantra Sarkar
Blake Stacey
Daniel Goldstein

and a schedule can be found on this webpage:

Prof. Sciolla is appointed US ATLAS Physics Analysis Deputy Adviser

1 07 2013

gabriellaProf. Gabriella Sciolla has been appointed US ATLAS Physics Analysis Deputy Adviser.  This is a two-year appointment, at the end of which Prof. Sciolla will become the US ATLAS Physics Adviser for another two years.  The Physics Advisers give guidance to the US ATLAS Operations Managers in all matters concerning physics. This is an important position that will help the US ATLAS management to develop the strongest possible physics program.  With Sciolla’s appointment, Brandeis has now two faculty members in the US ATLAS Operations Program team: Sciolla on Physics, and Bensinger on the Muon Detector. This large representation in the US ATLAS management team is unmatched by any other small university.

Sprout Grant Winners Announced

19 06 2013

Winners of the 2013 Sprout Grant competition held by the Brandeis Office of Technology and Licensing have been announced. Sprout grants support research that is “novel, patentable and [has] commercial potential“, and encourage students to think about new and different ways to apply their basic science for practical good. Each team applying for a grant must be led by a Brandeis student or postdoc (noted in asterisks below), who were responsible for presenting their proposals to the review panel.

Teams that received funding.

  • Marcus Long (*), Ann Lawson, Lior Rozhansky ’15, and Liz Hedstrom: $20,000 to develop novel inhibitors of deubiquitinating enzymes;
  • Michael Heymann (*), Achini Opathalage, Dongshin Kim, and Seth Fraden: $5,500 for its development of CrystalChip;
  • Michael Spellberg (*), Calla Olson, Marissa Donovan, and Mike Marr: $10,000 to develop a tool to purify Calmodulin-tagged recombinant proteins;
  • Julian Eskin (*) and Bruce Goode: $2,000 for work on a rapid and efficient kit to purify actin;
  • Eugene Goncharov ’13 (*), Yuval Galor ’15,  and Alex Bardasu ’15: $2,500 towards development of their iPhone app LineSaver, which collects data on local hotspots and gives users an estimated wait-time for restaurants, clubs and tourist attractions.

You can read more at BrandeisNOW

Simulations Say Viral Genome Lengths are Optimal for Capsid Assembly

14 06 2013

Viruses are infectious agents made up of proteins and a genome made of DNA or RNA. Upon infecting a host cell, viruses hijack the cell’s gene expression machinery and force it to produce copies of the viral genome and proteins, which then assemble into new viruses that can eventually infect other host cells. Because assembly is an essential step in the viral life cycle, understanding how this process occurs could significantly advance the fight against viral diseases.

In many viral families, a protein shell called a capsid forms around the viral genome during the assembly process. Capsids can also assemble around nucleic acids in solution, indicating that a host cell is not required for their formation. Since capsid proteins are positively charged, and nucleic acids are negatively charged, electrostatic interactions between the two are thought to be important in capsid assembly. Current questions of interest are how structural features of the viral genome affect assembly, and why the negative charge on viral genomes is actually far greater than the positive charge on capsids. These questions are difficult to address experimentally because most of the intermediates that form during virus assembly are too short-lived to be imaged.


Snapshots from a computer simulation in which model capsid subunits (blue) assemble around a linear, negatively charged polymer (red). Positive charges on the capsid proteins are shown in yellow.

In a new paper in eLife, Brandeis postdoc Jason Perlmutter, Physics grad student Cong Qiao, and Associate Professor Michael Hagan have used state of the art computational methods and advances in graphical processing units (on our High Performance Computing cluster) to produce the most realistic model of capsid assembly to date. They showed that the stability of the complex formed between the nucleic acid and the capsid depends on the length of the viral genome. Yield was highest for genomes within a certain range of lengths, and capsids that assembled around longer or shorter genomes tended to be malformed.

Perlmutter et al. also explored how structural features of the virus — including base-pairing between viral nucleic acids, and the size and charge of the capsid — determine the optimal length of the viral genome. When they included structural data from real viruses in their simulations and predicted the optimal lengths for the viral genome, the results were very similar to those seen in existing viruses. This indicates that the structure of the viral genome has been optimized to promote packaging into capsids. Understanding this relationship between structure and packaging will make it easier to develop antiviral agents that thwart or misdirect virus assembly, and could aid the redesign of viruses for use in gene therapy and drug delivery.

Perlmutter JD, Qiao C, Hagan MF. Viral genome structures are optimal for capsid assembly. eLife 2013;2:e00632

Brandeis Café Science held this Monday, June 3 with Prof. Bulbul Chakraborty

1 06 2013

sandStrolling on the beach we notice that our feet create dry spots around them.  The sand around the leopard’s feet flows while it speeds along the desert.  Close to the ocean, we often notice dark striations on the sand.  These phenomena are so familiar to us that we hardly ever pause to wonder their origin.  The surprising fact is that we do not really understand why sand behaves the way it does.

Join us THIS Monday, June 3, at 6:00pm at the Elephant Walk in Waltham for our next Brandeis Café Science! Professor of Physics Bulbul Chakraborty will take you on a journey through the world of granular matter: matter made out of large objects for which gravity is important and temperature is not.  This is stuff that we see around all around us but know very little about.

For the last five years Prof. Chakraborty has been working on developing a theory of granular materials that can predict their collective behavior. How do sand grains assemble into sand dunes and what causes them to avalanche?  Her research has led to a new paradigm for the emergence of solid-like properties.  Prof. Chakraborty will take you along on her journey to the discovery of this new paradigm as she asks you the questions that she asked herself.


Protected by Akismet
Blog with WordPress

Welcome Guest | Login (Brandeis Members Only)