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Third Scialog: MCL Conference Yields Great Science Discussions and 13 Team Proposals

Carried Away: A Scialog breakout discussion generates a wealth of ideas

The third and final Scialog: Molecules Come to Life conference took place in Tucson, AZ, in late April. The conference was attended by 51 Scialog Fellows, who are outstanding early to mid-career researchers from U.S. academic institutions, along with10 renowned senior facilitators. The Fellows formed 13 small teams and submitted proposals for seed funding of advanced, interdisciplinary scientific research on cutting edge topics at the interface of theoretical physics and cell biology.

The Scialog Advisory Committee is now evaluating the proposals and will recommend funding for about five teams – $50,000 direct funding for each member of a winning team.

The conference, cosponsored by RCSA, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), focused on advancing the quantitative understanding of the physical biology of cells and their interactions. Gary Greenburg, from the Moore Foundation, and Mike Espey and Dan Gallahan, from NCI, attended the conference, and Espey and Gallahan were among those serving as discussion facilitators. Moses Lee, Program Director for the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, was also present as an observer. Other discussion facilitators included Daniel Cox, University of California, Davis; Ken Dill, Stony Brook University; Daniel Fisher, Stanford University; Holly Goodson, University of Notre Dame; Rigoberto Hernandez, Johns Hopkins University; and Jané Kondev, Brandeis University.

This year’s keynote speakers were Martin Gruebele, the James R. Eiszner Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Physics and Professor of Biophysics and Computational Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Rob Phillips, Fred and Nancy Morris Professor of Biophysics and Biology at the California Institute of Technology.

Gruebele spoke on some underlying physical principles used for a quantitative description of biological systems. He cited examples ranging from physical studies of solvation water to the dynamics of protein and RNA chains, to dynamics in cells, to organism-level behavior dynamics.

Phillips focused on efforts at trying to tame staggering amounts of biological data using predictive theory. He discussed a particular case study involving transcription and noted a broad array of parameter-free predictions that apply to a diverse collection of transcriptional scenarios, and then considered how to test those predictions using precision measurements.

However, the unique Scialog format limits formal presentations and devotes the vast majority of the conference to small breakout discussions to identify risky blue sky ideas for new lines of research and form new collaborative interdisciplinary teams to pursue these ideas. Significant time is devoted to team proposal writing.

The two previous Scialog: MCL conferences have led to awards for 11 team projects for nearly $2 million in seed funding. Teams awarded from previous conferences presented impressive results from their Scialog projects.

The next Scialog conference will begin a new initiative on advanced energy storage, and is scheduled for November.

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