7:30 pm, Wednesday, March 14, 2012|
Fairmont Lounge, St. John's College
Landscapes of Matter, Energy and Life
Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
The enormous variety manifested in the material world has always fascinated people, but has been hard to fit into an intellectual tradition that deifies unity. Out of simple interactions how do so many forms of matter emerge? Equally perplexing: how are seemingly unique organizations of matter selected from myriads of possibilities? I will discuss these
ancient questions using the idea of energy landscapes. We will examine examples ranging from cosmology and materials science to molecular and cellular biology. The central ideas of energy landscape theory emerge in the analogies and differences between (i) protein folding and dynamics, and (ii) crystallization and glass formation. The funnel-like energy
landscape of an evolved protein is contrasted with the rugged energy landscape of glass-forming substances. This comparison leads to the “minimal frustration principle” and to simulation tools for analyzing and predicting protein structure -- the practical side of the "protein folding" problem.
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