Research

X-raying ion channels

The Nobel Prize winner Roderick MacKinnon suggested that ion channels (the pores on the cell membrane that regulate the exchange of ions between the inside and outside of cells) were like rigid tubes through which molecules of varying size move.

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.

Electrons in slow motion

At the origin of the properties of high-temperature superconductors lies a phenomenon that is too fast to be observed experimentally with conventional methods.

RNA: the unknotted strand of life

It had never been verified before: unlike other biopolymers, RNA, the long strand that is “cousin” to DNA, tends not to form knots. The observation has been published in the journal PNAS by a research team of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and the CEA of Saclay (Francia). 

DOWNLOAD > Press release

Still doubts on gravitational waves

In March last year the BICEP2 team (the Antarctic observatory) claimed to have observed, for the first time, the effects of gravitational waves in cosmic background radiation. In September Planck demonstrated that the signal observed might be the result of “contaminants” due to the polarised radiation produced by our Galaxy. The Planck and BICEP2 teams therefore joined forces to better investigate the problem, and will publish a paper in Physical Review Letters (announced by an ESA press release).

The brain’s electrical alphabet

The brain’s alphabet is a mix of rate and precise timing of electrical pulses: the observation was made by researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) of Rovereto, and has been published in the international journal Current Biology. The study shows that the nervous system features a “multichannel” language that makes up the neural code, or the alphabet that processes information in the brain. 

No gain if unfair

For human beings, implementing and having others implement social equity is important, so much so that we are prepared to forego a sure advantage if this derives from an unfair distribution of resources, regardless of whether we ourselves or others are the target of the unfairness.

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