Monday, March 17, 2008

Monday's Molecule #65

Some of the most important contributions to the biological sciences aren't associated with a particular molecule. This is one of those cases.

The figure on the right is taken from the Nobel Lecture of the Laureate who will be featured on Wednesday. It illustrates the problem that was being addressed. The real contribution of this Nobel Laureate is more easily illustrated by using a mathematical equation. The equation is shown below.

Your task is to identify the general field that's being discussed and to describe the significance of the equation. You must explain all the variables in the equation and why it was important enough to contribute to the award of a Novel Prize. Naturally, you also have to name the Nobel Laureate.

The first person to correctly describe the equation and name the Nobel Laureate wins a free lunch at the Faculty Club. Previous winners are ineligible for one month from the time they first collected the prize. There is only one ineligible candidate for this week's reward.


Nobel Laureates
Send your guess to Sandwalk (sandwalk (at) and I'll pick the first email message that correctly identifies the equation and the Nobel Laureate(s). Note that I'm not going to repeat Nobel Laureates so you might want to check the list of previous Sandwalk postings.

Correct responses will be posted tomorrow along with the time that the message was received on my server. I may select multiple winners if several people get it right.

Comments will be blocked for 24 hours. Comments are now open.

UPDATE: We have a winner! Haruhiko Ishii of the Dept. of Physics at UCSD got the right answer. I've issued an invitation to meet for lunch.

The figure shows the transition from a random coiled polymer to one that has more structure. The process was studied by Paul Flory who won the Nobel Prize in 1974 for his work on the physical chemistry of macromolecules. One of his important contributions was the concept of intrinsic viscosity [η]. This is a measure of viscosity that takes into account the contribution of a solute. The intrinsic viscosity depends on the viscosity of the solvent in the absence of solute and the change that takes place when the solute occupies a certain volume of the solution.

The equation for solving intrinsic viscosity can be written several ways. In the example shown above, K and α represent constants that depend on the type of solute. M is the molecular weight of the polymer.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the invitation. I am afraid that I will not be able to travel to Toronto next week.

    I was surprised that your question was about Flory. I thought that his work had little to do with biology. I don't know much about polymer science, but I guess it was an advantage to have read a book by de Gennes (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1991).