Computing Levinthal’s Paradox: Protein Folding, Part 2

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: David Mertz, Zuleirys Santana Rodriguez, and Scott Barolo

In a previous post, we discussed how proteins fold into unique shapes that allow them to perform their biological functions. Through many physical and chemical properties, like hydrogen bonding and hydrophobicity, proteins are able to fold correctly. However, proteins can fold improperly, and sometimes these malformed peptides aggregate, leading to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

How can we figure out when the folding process goes wrong? Can we use computers to figure out the folding/misfolding process and develop methods to prevent or undo the damage done by protein aggregates?

Continue reading “Computing Levinthal’s Paradox: Protein Folding, Part 2”

De-coupling the GMO-glyphosate link

Author: Amira Aker

Editors: Brittany Dixon, Kevin Boehnke

Tinkering with an organism’s genes is the subject of one of the most controversial debates today – and rightfully so. The resulting organisms are commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and figuring out how to use GMOs in a safe and sustainable manner is hotly debated. This issue isn’t simply a matter of technology, but one of safety, ecology, economics and even morality. Yet, there has been a notable absence of discussion around the broad-based herbicide glyphosate in mainstream media; namely, that over 80% of GMOs on the market today are modified to tolerate glyphosate. This effective herbicide kills pesky weeds without affecting farmers’ GMO crops, saving time and, potentially, money. However, given the vast opportunities that GMO science opens to us, is dedicating so many resources to this single GMO product the right way to go? Continue reading “De-coupling the GMO-glyphosate link”

New elements on the block

Author: David Mertz

Editors: Tricia Garay, Irene Park

Ever since an interactive display was built in my high school chemistry lab (one of only six such installations in the world), I’ve found the periodic table of elements to be a fascinating fixture of science. I remember watching the scientists prepare little displays for each individual element, including the metal gallium which they let me hold in my hand. It was different than most of the metals familiar to us. With a melting temperature just below 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), the metallic cube began to melt right on my palm. Continue reading “New elements on the block”

Science behind-the-scenes: Which fields are “real sciences”?

Author: Bryan Moyers

Content Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Molly Kozminsky

Senior Editor: Alisha John



Well, that field isn’t really science.”

Oh, that’s just a soft science.”

Most people who work in the sciences have probably heard phrases like these.  Translation: that field is lesser.  The physicists say it about everyone lower than them in the pecking order, as do the chemists, biologists, and so on down the line.  The nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford famously said, “All science is either physics or stamp-collecting.”  People argue about this at scientific conferences and in the media.   The science and pop-culture webcomic xkcd has even parodied the issue.

Continue reading “Science behind-the-scenes: Which fields are “real sciences”?”

Water splitting part II: Research at University of Michigan

By Jimmy Brancho

You know what they say: “You can’t store solar energy without cracking a few water molecules.”

Or, at least, many scientists around the world are working to make that so. As was discussed earlier on this blog, solar water splitting could enable a cleaner energy future by storing energy from the sun’s rays in a stable chemical fuel like hydrogen that can be used on-demand. Ideally, the only inputs needed would be water and sunlight, and the only waste product oxygen. However, the current state of technology is a long way off. Bart Bartlett, Charles McCrory, and Neil Dasgupta are among several faculty here at the University of Michigan that are working to make solar water splitting devices a reality. Each of them approaches the  problem from a diverse angle.

Continue reading “Water splitting part II: Research at University of Michigan”

Water splitting: One way to store solar energy

By Jimmy Brancho

The fuel source of the future might be a lot more familiar than you think.

Plenty of people are excited about solar energy’s replacing fossil fuels. Harvesting, processing, and burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to environmental pollution and political conflict. Could we reduce those problems by using solar energy instead? Industry seems to think so; the most recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory Data Book statistics show that electricity output from solar installations has grown continually throughout the last decade – nearly 75% from 2011 to 2012 alone.

But what happens when the sun goes down? Are you just supposed to not binge Netflix at midnight? Continue reading “Water splitting: One way to store solar energy”