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How We Think and Move at the Smallest scale: a (Bio-) Physicist's Perspective

Event Type
Community Service
Department of Physics
141 Loomis Laboratory of Physics 1110 W. Green St. Urbana IL
Oct 13, 2012   10:15 am  
Professor Paul Selvin
Originating Calendar
Physics - Saturday Physics for Everyone

Your body is made of about 50-75 trillion cells. Each cell is like a small city, with cars and trucks moving on roadways, transporting cargo of proteins or hormones. Often times, there are roadblocks and detours. These incredibly efficient "cars", called molecular motors, are tiny—1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They maneuver inside a cell that is as viscous as concrete.

In my lab, we study how these motors move. We have shown that motors which operate outside the nucleus have two "feet" and "walk". Often two of these motors will travel the same road on a head-on collision course. They don’t collide: one will wobble, enabling the other to pass safely by.

Motors operating within the cell’s nucleus "inchworm" along by spurting out stored energy as they move along the DNA.  Other motors, like those inside viruses, are incredibly strong and can rip through cell membranes to inject their DNA.

Motors moving

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