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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 24, 2024
  2. We study the collective elastic behavior of semiflexible polymer solutions in a nematic liquid-crystalline state using polymer field theory. Our polymer field-theoretic model of semiflexible polymer solutions is extended to include second-order fluctuation corrections to the free energy, permitting the evaluation of the Frank elastic constants based on orientational order fluctuations in the nematic state. Our exact treatment of wormlike chain statistics permits the evaluation of behavior from the nematic state, thus accurately capturing the impact of single-chain behavior on collective elastic response. Results for the Frank elastic constants are presented as a function of aligning field strength and chain length, and we explore the impact of conformation fluctuations and hairpin defects on the twist, splay, and bend moduli. Our results indicate that the twist elastic constant Ktwist is smaller than both bend and splay constants (Kbend and Ksplay, respectively) for the entire range of polymer rigidity. Splay and bend elastic constants exhibit regimes of dominance over the range of chain stiffness, where Ksplay > Kbend for flexible polymers (large-N limit) while the opposite is true for rigid polymers. Theoretical analysis also suggests the splay modulus tracks exactly to that of the end-to-end distance in the transverse direction for semiflexible polymers at intermediate to large-N. These results provide insight into the role of conformation fluctuations and hairpin defects on the collective response of polymer solutions.

     
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  3. A grand challenge in materials science is to identify the impact of molecular composition and structure across a range of length scales on macroscopic properties. We demonstrate a unified experimental–theoretical framework that coordinates experimental measurements of mesoscale structure with molecular-level physical modeling to bridge multiple scales of physical behavior. Here we apply this framework to understand charge transport in a semiconducting polymer. Spatially-resolved nanodiffraction in a transmission electron microscope is combined with a self-consistent framework of the polymer chain statistics to yield a detailed picture of the polymer microstructure ranging from the molecular to device relevant scale. Using these data as inputs for charge transport calculations, the combined multiscale approach highlights the underrepresented role of defects in existing transport models. Short-range transport is shown to be more chaotic than is often pictured, with the drift velocity accounting for a small portion of overall charge motion. Local transport is sensitive to the alignment and geometry of polymer chains. At longer length scales, large domains and gradual grain boundaries funnel charges preferentially to certain regions, creating inhomogeneous charge distributions. While alignment generally improves mobility, these funneling effects negatively impact mobility. The microstructure is modified in silico to explore possible design rules, showing chain stiffness and alignment to be beneficial while local homogeneity has no positive effect. This combined approach creates a flexible and extensible pipeline for analyzing multiscale functional properties and a general strategy for extending the accesible length scales of experimental and theoretical probes by harnessing their combined strengths.

     
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  4. The pairing of homologous chromosomes (homologs) in meiosis is essential for distributing the correct numbers of chromosomes into haploid gametes. In budding yeast, pairing depends on the formation of 150 to 200 Spo11-mediated double-strand breaks (DSBs) that are distributed among 16 homolog pairs, but it is not known if all, or only a subset, of these DSBs contribute to the close juxtaposition of homologs. Having established a system to measure the position of fluorescently tagged chromosomal loci in three-dimensional space over time, we analyzed locus trajectories to determine how frequently and how long loci spend colocalized or apart. Continuous imaging revealed highly heterogeneous cell-to-cell behavior of foci, with the majority of cells exhibiting a “mixed” phenotype where foci move into and out of proximity, even at late stages of prophase, suggesting that the axial structures of the synaptonemal complex may be more dynamic than anticipated. The observed plateaus of the mean-square change in distance (MSCD) between foci informed the development of a biophysical model of two diffusing polymers that captures the loss of centromere linkages as cells enter meiosis, nuclear confinement, and the formation of Spo11-dependent linkages. The predicted number of linkages per chromosome in our theoretical model closely approximates the small number (approximately two to four) of estimated synapsis-initiation sites, suggesting that excess DSBs have negligible effects on the overall juxtaposition of homologs. These insights into the dynamic interchromosomal behavior displayed during homolog pairing demonstrate the power of combining time-resolved in vivo analysis with modeling at the granular level. 
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    We develop a predictive theoretical model of the physical mechanisms that govern the heritability and maintenance of epigenetic modifications. This model focuses on a particular modification, methylation of lysine-9 of histone H3 (H3K9), which is one of the most representative and critical epigenetic marks that affects chromatin organization and gene expression. Our model combines the effect of segregation and compaction on chromosomal organization with the effect of the interaction between proteins that compact the chromatin (heterochromatin protein 1) and the methyltransferases that affect methyl spreading. Our chromatin model demonstrates that a block of H3K9 methylations in the epigenetic sequence determines the compaction state at any particular location in the chromatin. Using our predictive model for chromatin compaction, we develop a methylation model to address the reestablishment of the methylation sequence following DNA replication. Our model reliably maintains methylation over generations, thereby establishing the robustness of the epigenetic code. 
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