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Bradley Antanaitis, associate professor of physics, will speak on “How Do You Make a Protein Laugh? Tickle it, of course!” at noon today.

Free and open to the public, Physics Club brown bag talks take place in Gagnon Lecture Hall (room 100), Hugel Science Center. Free pizza and soda are provided.

Antanaitis’ research focuses on the structure and function of metal-bearing proteins and enzymes isolated from sources as diverse as photosynthetic bacteria, leguminous plants, and pregnant sows. These proteins participate in a wide variety of fundamental life processes, including photosynthetic electron transport, iron and oxygen transport, and enzymatic catalysis. Since all of the proteins contain one or more metal atoms, they are amenable to study by an arsenal of magnetic resonance and spectroscopic techniques, studies frequently supplemented with biochemical data obtained through isoelectric focusing or enzymatic assay. Where applicable, the dynamical aspects of a biopolymer’s behavior are also probed by measuring electron transfer rates, or the rates at which small molecules “hop” on and off their larger biomolecular cousins. Ultimately these results may be used to develop low molecular weight analogs that mimic the protein’s function. Synthetic analogs, which closely resemble the protein’s active site, also aid in the elucidation of the protein’s structure.

Much of this research has been carried out off-campus, primarily at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at Princeton and Cornell Universities. However, the acquisition (jointly with the chemistry department) of a 300 MHz pulsed Fourier-transform nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, housed in Hugel Science Center, and the establishment of a biophysical laboratory in the basement of Hugel now makes it possible to conduct a greater proportion of the research on campus.

Antanaitis partnered with Goldwater Scholarship recipient Daniel Swarr ’02 on EXCEL research last year that may yield a better understanding of certain proteins that are essential for functions that sustain life. While the research does not have a medical focus per se, its conclusions could help other researchers studying proteins for a variety of reasons. For example, by building on this knowledge, others may gain a better understanding of conditions that lead to sickle cell anemia, a genetic disorder.

Jill C. Tarter, director of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, will speak on “SETI: Science Fact, Not Fiction,” noon Friday, Nov. 16, at the same location.

She received her undergraduate degree in engineering physics from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley, where Tarter’s major field of study was theoretical high-energy astrophysics. As a graduate student at Berkeley, she became involved in the beginning stages of a small search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations using the Hat Creek Observatory 85-foot telescope. That project, SERENDIP, underwent many stops and starts and overhauls (and is still ongoing), and it provided a natural introduction to the newly formed Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Program Office at NASA Ames Research Center, where Tarter was pursuing an NRC resident associateship.

As a principal investigator for the non-profit SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., Tarter served as project scientist for NASA’s High Resolution Microwave Survey until its termination by Congress in October 1993. As such, she had the opportunity to meld together old and new engineering skills with knowledge of the observable universe, in order to conduct and plan for thorough observations of the sky through a set of narrow band and pulse sensitive filters never before systematically employed by astronomers.

On Sept. 15, 1997, the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute appointed Tarter to a new endowed position at the SETI Institute: the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI.

Tarter travels globally to present lectures and papers at numerous scientific symposia and colloquia. She has published scores of technical articles, has been elected to many professional societies, and has served on a number of scientific advisory committees.

She has a strong interest in educating the next generation of scientists. She was principal investigator for a National Science Foundation-funded award-winning series of supplementary Teachers Guides on Life in the Universe for middle and elementary schools. Currently she is principal investigator on an NSF grant in collaboration with colleagues at NASA Ames Research Center, the California Academy of Sciences, and San Francisco State University to produce a ninth-grade integrated science curriculum called Voyages Through Time that is based on the overarching theme of evolution.

In September 1989, Tarter received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to the field of exobiology, and in particular to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, by Women in Aerospace, a professional association in Washington, DC. In March 1993 she received two Public Service Medals from NASA and a Group Achievement Award for her contributions to NASA’s HRMS Project. In February 1997 Tarter received the Chabot Observatory Person of the Year Award, and in November 1998 she received the Women of Achievement Award, Science and Technology category, presented by the Women’s Fund and the San Jose Mercury News.

Categorized in: Academic News