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In this issue:
Beautiful Images Yield Insights into the Origins of Life
Profile Today: Katherine George
Photo of the Day: SULI Summer Students Enjoy Last Week at Lab
Global Climate and Energy Symposium

SLAC Today

Wednesday - August 16, 2006

Beautiful Images Yield Insights into the Origins of Life

(Photo - Ribosime)
Diagrams of the Full-Length Hammerhead Ribozyme

Scientists at the University of California-Santa Cruz came to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and the Advanced Light Source to take images of ribozymes—molecules that offer glimpses into how life may have originated.

Ribozymes are made of the genetic material RNA, and they act as chemical catalysts, like protein enzymes. Ribozymes would have enabled the first self-replicating molecules, also made of RNA, to copy themselves.

Using macromolecular x-ray crystallography, the researchers obtained a three-dimensional picture of the spatial arrangement of the several thousand atoms that comprise a very simple ribozyme. After seeing how the molecule can mediate catalysis, the researchers proposed that ribozyme chemistry predates the origin of protein enzymes, which are now needed to replicate genes. The new findings are described by graduate student Monika Martick and her advisor, William Scott, in the July 27 issue of the journal Cell.

"Monika e-mailed me from the Stanford Synchrotron at 3 a.m. to show me the most beautiful electron density map I had ever seen," Scott said. "I was so amazed I probably didn't sleep for the next three weeks."

Many academic and industrial laboratories are engineering ribozymes for potential use in fighting infectious and chronic diseases.

(Weekly Column - Profile)

Katherine George

As one of twenty-six particle physicists selected by the BaBar Speakers' Bureau to present a talk on major findings, Katherine George's challenges at the International Conference on High-Energy Physics (ICHEP) reached beyond securing a visa to Russia.

"I had to present six new results in ten minutes, when I could have easily spent half an hour on a single result," she says. George had to not only fit in all the new results of her and her colleagues' work, but convey the findings—and their importance—in a manner that all audience members, be they experimentalists or theorists, could understand.

"ICHEP is a showcase for reporting what BaBar has done, we have to be coherent," she says. To balance the salient information with coherence, George devoted more than a week to preparing, mostly reading collaborators' conference notes and copious supporting documentation.

"You're publicizing other people's work as well," she says. "Your biggest fear as a speaker is to get a question starting with 'I see on slide four, the third bullet point mentions...' You hope you're prepared enough to represent others' analyses. It's not that it could be curtains, but you have to think on your feet."

The results George presented are collaborative—some 20 to 30 people contributed to the analyses presented in her talk. At the rehearsal talk, collaborators suggested aspects to emphasize, offered questions that audience members might ask, and came back with updated figures as the results were finalized. In the end, George managed to pack the latest results for one of BaBar's flagship analyses: the measurement of sin2β—its angle is now refined to within one degree—along with updates in the search for a violation of charge-parity-time symmetry into the allotted ten minutes.

George's ICHEP experience came just as she's finishing her two years at SLAC as a postdoc from the University of Liverpool. She has also worked as a BaBar run coordinator since May, allowing her to experience all aspects of working on a running experiment—from overseeing the taking of data at BaBar, analyzing that data and then presenting the results at ICHEP.

"It's the best talk I could have given at this stage of my career," she says.

Photo of the Day:
SULI Summer Students Enjoy Last Week at Lab

Photo by Hugh Desmond.
(Click on image for larger version.)

Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) summer students Sarah Harrison and Alessondra Springmann are making the most of their last week at SLAC by spending as much time in the Kavli Building as possible. "We were lost looking for the vending machines in Kavli, so we decided to pitch a tent," Springmann says with a grin.

Global Climate and Energy Symposium

The Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) will hold its second energy research symposium, Developments in Fundamental Research Towards Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy Systems, September 18-20 in Stanford's Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center. The three-day event is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of scientific results and developments that may lead to energy technologies with significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Both GCEP-funded and outside investigators will give presentations highlighting the results of their innovative research. Several poster sessions will also be held to allow all GCEP investigators and their graduate students to provide details of their work.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Steve Chu, Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and 1997 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. His keynote address will open a session that will include presentations from Stanford and outside experts intended to set the stage for the meeting by providing an overall perspective of the background to the technical talks given during the conference.

The agenda will topic areas including the global energy context, solar energy, bioenergy, and carbon mitigation, capture, separation, and storage.

The symposium is free and open to the Stanford community and other researchers and energy professionals. All attendees must register for the meeting by Friday, September 8, 2006. To register, please visit the symposium website.

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