Pre-Applications to Sprout Program Due 4/17

Sprout logoThe Sprout Program is back!

Funded by the Provost’s Office and the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), Sprout is designed to encourage and support translational research activity within the Brandeis community for faculty, postdocs, and student researchers (graduate and undergraduate) in the Division of Science. The awards (up to $25,000 – no overhead!) are intended to help to advance early-stage technologies to industry adoption thereby bringing your research and entrepreneurial ambitions to life.

Successful pre-applicants will be invited to submit a final application due in late May and to pitch to a panel of industry judges in early June. Pre-apply by April 17.

Physics Participates in the GSAS 70th Anniversary Celebration

On February 15, around 40 Physics faculty, current graduate students, and graduate alumni zoomed in for a celebration of the Physics graduate program. The celebration included fascinating presentations by Bennett Sessa and Bibi Najma, current students in Guillaume Duclos’ lab, about their work on active matter and biomimetics, as well as the benefits of being Brandeis students. There were also happy reunions between faculty and old students, and reminiscences about various periods of the department’s history, from the 1960s all the way to today. The positive impact that Brandeis had on the students’ careers, both inside and outside academia was clear from their many stories.

One interesting theme was how some of the department’s research areas have shifted over the generations, starting with a heavy focus on atomic beams and hard condensed matter (or solid state physics as it was called then) to today’s focus on soft matter and biological physics, while in other areas, such as high-energy experiment and theory, the department has maintained its tradition of strength.

Eva Silverstein is 2023 Eisenbud Lectures speaker

Eisenbud poster The Mathematics department is pleased to announce that this year’s speaker for the Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics is Eva Silverstein of Stanford University. The lectures will take place at Brandeis University from March 28th – March 30th. The Eisenbud Lectures are the result of a generous donation by Leonard and Ruth-Jean Eisenbud intended for a yearly set of lectures by an eminent physicist or mathematician working close to the interface of the two subjects.

Professor Silverstein is an eminent theoretical physicist who has done creative, pioneering and influential work in string theory, quantum field theory, and both conceptual and observational aspects of cosmology. She was a Sloan Fellow and a MacArthur Fellow; she is currently a Simons investigator; a fellow of the American Physics Society; and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Silverstein is a fascinating speaker, and these lectures promise to be enlightening and entertaining in equal measure. Here’s the lecture schedule (refreshments will be available before each talk):

  • Tuesday, March 28th at 4pm in Abelson 131: “The accelerating universe and rigid Einstein manifolds”.  For Zoom link, please contact Catherine Broderick.
  • Wednesday, March 29th at 11am in Abelson 333: “The accelerating universe and integrable deformations of quantum field theories”
  • Thursday, March 30th at 10am in Abelson 333: “Optimization and sampling from energy-conserving Hamiltonian dynamical systems”

There will be a reception held on campus at Feldberg Lounge in the Hassenfeld Building after the first colloquium on Tuesday, March 28th.  All are invited to attend.

Prof. Albion Lawrence and Prof. Bong Lian are hosting the 2023 lecture series.

Albion Lawrence receives 3-year funding from NASA’s Physical Oceanography program

Albion Lawrence

The ocean is a highly complex, multiscale system, with many types of motions occurring simultaneously. Ocean turbulence between 1km and hundreds of kilometers (the *submesoscale* and *mesoscale*) contains about 90% of the kinetic energy of the ocean, and is crucial for understanding the vertical and horizontal transport of heat, salt, carbon, and microorgamisms; and for understanding the coupling between the ocean and atmosphere. At these scales, internal waves driven by tides and wind also propagate through the ocean and play an important role in mixing such quantities. Characterizing and disentangling these different classes dynamics, and understanding how they interact, is a central problem in physical oceanography. This has become particularly salient with the December 2022 launch of the Surface Water and OceanTopography (SWOT) satellite, which will observe the ocean from space with unprecedented resolution.

Typical studies focus on the kinetic energy as a function of physical scale, (the “power spectrum”), to characterize ocean turbulence. However, this is a fairly blunt instrument and requires more precision than is available. Thus, Joern Callies, Assistant Professor for Environmental Science and Engineering at Caltech and Albion Lawrence, Professor of Physics, intend to use high-order statistical tests, inspired by tools used by observational cosmologists, quantum field theorists, and statistical physicists, to study mesoscale and submesoscale ocean dynamics using satellite observations, direct measurements made in the ocean, and numerical modeling. Their proposal, “Higher-order statistics of geostrophic turbulence and internal waves”, for which Professor Lawrence is the PI and Professor Callies is the Co-PI, was just selected for funding by the Physical Oceanography program at NASA. It was one of nine proposals selected out of 40 in 2022.

Professor Lawrence has been a theoretical high energy physicist for over thirty years, and has only recently begun working in climate-related physics problems. He just co-wrote two papers (, on black holes and quantum gravity. To further help his move into this new field, he was also awarded a Simons Foundation Pivot Fellowship to spend the 2023-24 academic year embedded in Professor Callies’ group at Caltech. Brandeis’ collegial and interdisciplinary environment had a lot to do with the success and fun Professor Lawrence has had to date. This direction of his research was spurred by his involvement in a large multi-department NSF IGERT grant in “Geometry and Dynamics” that ran from 2011-2018; and got a very important boost from a Provost’s Innovation on “Nonequilbrium Statistical Mechanics of the Ocean and Atmosphere” that Lawrence received in 2019.

Simons Foundation: Jané Kondev discusses the Mathematics of Biology

As part of their 4 Minutes With series, the Simons Foundation recently presented a video of Jané Kondev, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics, discussing the Mathematics of Biology. Kondev is a 2020 Simons Investigator in Theoretical Physics in Life Sciences.

Image: Simons Foundation

Kondev is a theoretical physicist who works primarily on problems in molecular and cell biology (Kondev Group).



Designing synthetic DNA nanoparticles that assemble into tubules

How does nature assemble nanoscale structures? Unlike the typical top-down methods for manufacturing, biological systems manufacture functional nanomaterials from the bottom up using a process called self-assembly. In self-assembly, individual ‘building blocks’ are encoded with instructions about how to interact with one another. As a result, ordered structures spontaneously form from a soup of building blocks through thermal fluctuations alone. Famous examples of self-assembling structures in nature include viral capsids, which protect the genetic material and orchestrate viral infections, and microtubules, which form part of the highway systems used for intracellular transportation. However, until recently, manufacturing similarly complex nanostructures from synthetic materials was out of reach because there were no methods for synthesizing building blocks with the kinds of complex geometries and interactions common to biological molecules.

Assembled Tubules Under TEM

In collaboration with the Dietz Lab at the Technical University of Munich and the Grason Group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a team of scientists from the Rogers Lab, Hagan Group,  and Fraden Lab in the Department of Physics at Brandeis developed a class of nanoscale particles that can overcome this hurdle. They designed and synthesized triangular building blocks using a technique known as DNA origami, in which the single-stranded DNA genome from a bacteriophage is ‘folded’ into a user-prescribed 3D shape using a cocktail of short DNA oligonucleotides. The triangular particles that they designed bind to other triangles through specific edge-edge interactions with bond angles that can be independently tuned to make a surface with programmable curvature.

Daichi Hayakawa, a Ph.D. student in the Rogers Lab, tuned the triangle design so that the particles would spontaneously assemble into a tubule with a programmed width and chirality. Interestingly, the assembled tubules were highly polymorphic. In other words, the width and chirality varied from tubule to tubule. Working together with the Hagan Group in Physics, the team rationalized this observation by considering the ‘softness’ of the edge interaction, which allows thermal fluctuations to steer assembly away from the target geometry. To constrain this polymorphism, the research team came up with an alternative method. By using more than one distinct triangle type to assemble a single tubule geometry, they found that they could eliminate some of these off-target structures, thereby making tubule assembly more specific.

In summary, this work highlights two avenues for increasing the fidelity of self-closing structures self-assembled from simple building blocks: control of the curvature through precise geometrical design and addressable complexity through increasing the number of unique species in the assembly mixture. Not only will this result be useful for constructing self-closing nanostructures through self-assembly, but it may also help us understand the role of symmetry and complexity in other self-closing structures found in nature.


Geometrically programmed self-limited assembly of tubules using DNA origami colloids. Daichi Hayakawa, Thomas E. Videbaek, Douglas M. Hall and W. Benjamin Rogers.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2022 Oct 25;119(43):e2207902119.

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