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Research

Where space-time becomes discrete

In quantum gravity, classical physics and quantum mechanics are at odds: scientists are still uncertain how to reconcile the quantum “granularity” of space-time at the Planck scale with the theory of special relativity. In their attempts to identify possible tests of the physics associated with this difficult union, the most commonly studied scenario is the one that implies violations of  “Lorentz invariance”, the principle underlying special relativity.

The missing recipe

It was one of the “missing pieces” in the Theoretical Physics of Materials puzzle and today a group of SISSA researchers has finally found it: for the first time, the phenomenon of thermal conduction has been accounted for by the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. The study, just published in Nature Physics, will allow scientists to simulate this phenomenon numerically in extreme temperature and pressure conditions, such as those existing inside planets, or for materials, such as covalent glasses or liquids, to which currently available methods do not apply.

The gaze that hinders expression

It is not enough to observe what abilities are altered in autistic subjects, we also need to understand how each function interacts with the others. In fact, whereas in normal subjects joint attention appears to facilitate facial mimicry (both are skills relevant for human social interaction), the opposite holds true for autistic subjects. That is what a new study, just published in Autism Research, suggests.

What happens inside a membrane

Little is known about how the proteins forming ion channels – the “pores” on the cell membrane - change when they open and close, especially the portion that is “embedded” in the membrane. Scientists at SISSA have invented a method, based on the combined and innovative use of known techniques, which allowed them to observe in detail a specific membrane protein and its structural changes. The study has just been published in Nature Communications

Desirable defects

Introducing flaws into liquid crystals by inserting microspheres and then controlling them with electrical fields: that, in a nutshell, is the rationale behind a method that could be exploited for a new generation of advanced materials, potentially useful for optical technologies, electronic displays and e-readers.

A “sponge” for culturing neurons

By using an innovative yet simple technique, a team of Italian research scientists (from SISSA in Trieste, the University of Trieste and IIT in Genova) have managed to obtain an in vitro culture of primary neurons (and astrocytes) that is genuinely three-dimensional. The neural network showed a more complex function than its two-dimensional counterparts. The structure is also the first to incorporate carbon nanotubes, which promote the formation of synapses among the neurons in the culture. The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

An “unfocused” eye that sees the big picture

Designed to detect the fossil radiation of the Universe, the Planck satellite, working in tandem with Herschel, can also help to understand the macrostructure of the Universe. A just-published experimental study, carried out with the participation of SISSA, has detected astronomical sources that may be precursors to galaxy clusters, the largest dynamically stable structures existing in the Universe. These primitive elements have long been sought by astrophysicists since they are crucial for tracing the development of the Universe’s macrostructures.

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