Urbana researcher receives national award

March 21, 2000

Explains how "liquid" glass keeps its shape

Chemist Peter G. Wolynes of Urbana, Ill., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for explaining how glass -- a kind of "frozen" liquid -- keeps its shape, and applying that insight to help explain the functional shapes of proteins. He will receive the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in San Francisco.

Ten years ago, Wolynes and his group at the University of Illinois answered a deceptively simple question: How does glass remain solid?

The organization of glass molecules lacks the regular pattern that gives solids their characteristic rigidity. The particles are jumbled, as in a liquid. But while describing glass as a liquid is popular science trivia, it's inaccurate, said Wolynes.

"I would call glass a disorganized crystal, a sort of liquid in a frozen state," he said. "Almost any liquid will form a glass, as long as you cool it fast enough so it doesn't have time to organize.

"The basic idea of what we showed is that even random structures can still be stable," he continued. "Think of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Even though the shapes are irregular and they don't repeat, they do fit and stay together."

Wolynes is applying this mathematical insight to another problem: how new proteins fold themselves into precise, three-dimensional shapes. Researchers know proteins need particular shapes to function, but they assume them too quickly to study in the laboratory. And reproducing the speed properly in computer simulations requires lowering the virtual temperature.

"At that point, the proteins are too cool to assume their original structure. You could say they're trapped in a glass state," said the physical chemist. "One way of overcoming the computer-time problem is to develop simple models of the driving forces which avoid that trap."

Algorithms developed by Wolynes -- used in the field worldwide -- can be used to compare simulated protein shapes and those found in nature. Each helps develop a model that can be used to predict a protein fold from its sequence. The discovery has myriad applications from environmental cleanup to drug design.

The Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry is sponsored by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. of Wilmington, Del.
-end-
A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society www.acs.org publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

Related Proteins Articles from Brightsurf:

New understanding of how proteins operate
A ground-breaking discovery by Centenary Institute scientists has provided new understanding as to the nature of proteins and how they exist and operate in the human body.

Finding a handle to bag the right proteins
A method that lights up tags attached to selected proteins can help to purify the proteins from a mixed protein pool.

Designing vaccines from artificial proteins
EPFL scientists have developed a new computational approach to create artificial proteins, which showed promising results in vivo as functional vaccines.

New method to monitor Alzheimer's proteins
IBS-CINAP research team has reported a new method to identify the aggregation state of amyloid beta (Aβ) proteins in solution.

Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence
Scientists have long studied how to improve proteins or design new ones.

Hero proteins are here to save other proteins
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have discovered a new group of proteins, remarkable for their unusual shape and abilities to protect against protein clumps associated with neurodegenerative diseases in lab experiments.

Designer proteins
David Baker, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington to speak at the AAAS 2020 session, 'Synthetic Biology: Digital Design of Living Systems.' Prof.

Gone fishin' -- for proteins
Casting lines into human cells to snag proteins, a team of Montreal researchers has solved a 20-year-old mystery of cell biology.

Coupled proteins
Researchers from Heidelberg University and Sendai University in Japan used new biotechnological methods to study how human cells react to and further process external signals.

Understanding the power of honey through its proteins
Honey is a culinary staple that can be found in kitchens around the world.

Read More: Proteins News and Proteins Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.