Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015
Fundamental Studies in Quasi-two-dimensional Hydrodynamics
Life happens at the cellular level, with molecules – food particles, viral DNA, waste and gases – not only passing through the cell membranes but also traveling within these thin membranes. “Therefore, the physics of transport, diffusion and aggregation of particles in these membranes is of fundamental interest,” says Tatiana Kuriabova, assistant professor of physics at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Kuriabova has received a Cottrell College Science Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to study thin, fluid membranes similar to those found in living cells. These membranes are only a few atoms thick, which is why researchers call them “two-dimensional” fluids, as opposed to (3D) bulk fluids surrounding the membranes. The difference is important because it affects the cell’s function, in particular, the rate of toxin clumping within the cellular membrane.
Specifically Kuriabova will use her award to continue work she began with colleagues at UC Boulder. They have been using ‘smectic liquids’ to perform controlled experiments and computer modeling in 2D.
‘Smectic’ denotes a state of liquid crystal in which the molecules are oriented in parallel and arranged in well-defined planes. Using these exotic substances will enable Kuriabova and her colleagues to vary in a controlled manner the key length scale, which, she notes, seems to have a striking effect on the diffusive transport properties of 2D membranes.
Their work may lead to new insights into the propulsion of microorganisms in cell membranes as well as 2D hydrodynamics in general.