MPI-PKS kicks off the year with 3 new research groups
A warm welcome to three new research group leaders at the institute! Pierre Haas joins us from the University of Oxford and heads the research group "Self-Organization of Multicellular Systems". The group is based jointly at the Center for Systems Biology Dresden, the MPI-PKS and the MPI-CBG and will focus on the mechanics of cells and tissues. In particular, Pierre's group is interested in deriving the continuum theories that represent the rich mechanical behavior of tissues during development and thus allow understanding how robust development is compatible with mechanical constraints and biological variability. While the research of the group is theoretical, it will work in close collaboration with experimental groups at the MPI-CBG and beyond.
Matt Eiles originally joined MPI-PKS from Purdue University and was a Distinguished PKS Postdoctoral Fellow until December, now heading the new group "Correlations and Transport in Rydberg Matter" associated with the Finite Systems Division. Via the study of Rydberg matter the group aims to answer fundamental questions about atomic structure, low-energy collisions and scattering, and the behavior of ultracold gases, while also raising new questions related to localization, transport, highly correlated systems, quantum chaos, semiclassical dynamics, and quantum simulation. A strong relationship with ongoing experimental work and the flexibility of Rydberg atoms to shed insight into new theoretical inquiries motivate their research.
Marko Popovic comes to Dresden from the EPFL Lausanne and establishes the research group "Order and Disorder in Driven Systems" associated with the Biological Physics Division. The group will investigate mechanical and rheological properties of out-of-equilbrium systems, with an emphasis on development of biological tissues and the role of structural disorder. Furthermore, emergence of order in biological systems and its relation to tissue mechanical properties will be of particular interest.
Welcome to the institute and have a great start!
Many proteins form small droplets that separate out of the cell’s cytoplasm, just like oil de-mixes from water. Since their discovery, these liquid-like protein droplets have been identified in myriad important biological phenomena ranging from embryonic development over neuro-degeneration to DNA regulation. For instance, the localization of protein droplets in a specific location during early development of a worm is believed to determine which cells will become the sexual organs of the adult worm. In another example, protein condensation into droplets under cell stress is associated with the growth of fibers related to neurodegeneration as seen in ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) disease.
Observations have shown that the material properties of these protein condensates change with time. However, an appropriate measurement and description of the material properties and their evolution over time was missing so far. Researchers from the MPI of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS), together with their colleagues from the TU Dresden, EMBL Heidelberg and the IMBA Vienna have now filled this gap. In their study, recently published in Science, the scientists show that protein droplets exhibit aging behavior in which they change slowly from liquid-like behavior to a more solid-like state.
Louise Jawerth, postdoc in the Frank Jülicher and Tony Hyman groups and first author of the publication, explains, “In order to carefully measure and characterize the time-dependent material properties we first developed a new optical trap technique (Jawerth et al physical review letters 2018 121 (25), 258101)”. The former ELBE postdoctoral fellow at the CSBD continues, ”We then found that droplet aging shows a strongly increasing viscosity, which leads to more solid-like behaviour. Our study suggests that the time-dependent material properties arise from unspecific mechanisms such as jamming of molecules.”
Frank Jülicher, director at the MPI-PKS and member of the CSBD and the “Physics of Life” (PoL) Cluster of Excellence at the TU Dresden, adds, “Similar aging has been seen in other materials with time-dependent properties such as traditional glass, plastics, rubbers, or common household items like toothpaste or mayonnaise. By establishing a connection to glass forming systems, we open a new window in which we can utilize a wealth of understanding of these other systems to understand protein droplets.”
The second supervisor of the study, Anthony Hyman, director at the MPI-CBG and member of the CSBD, summarizes, “The analogy to traditional glasses also suggests that the unspecific interactions resulting in a solid-like state require less energy to dissolve than, for instance, in comparison to a gel comprised of very strong bonds. Furthermore, it may be used in cells as novel stress sensors. Further study on aging in protein droplets may help to answer fundamental biological questions, for example in embryonic development or DNA transcription, and to better understand neurodegenerative diseases. Vice versa, it may also lead to insights into glass-like aging more generally, which is considered one of the big unsolved questions in condensed matter physics.”
Many-body localization (MBL) provides a mechanism to avoid thermalization in many-body quantum systems. Here, we show that an emergent symmetry can protect a state from MBL. Specifically, we propose a $Z_2$ symmetric model with nonlocal interactions, which has an analytically known, SU(2) invariant, critical ground state. At large disorder strength, all states at finite energy density are in a glassy MBL phase, while the lowest energy states are not. These do, however, localize when a perturbation destroys the emergent SU(2) symmetry. The model also provides an example of MBL in the presence of nonlocal, disordered interactions that are more structured than a power law. Finally, we show how the protected state can be moved into the bulk of the spectrum.
N. S. Srivatsa et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 125, 240401 (2020).
Carlsberg Foundation Young Researcher Fellowship for Anne E. B. Nielsen
Anne E. B. Nielsen receives 670 thousand euro from the Carlsberg Foundation to search for and investigate new types of non-thermal behaviors in strongly correlated quantum many-body systems. The Carlsberg Foundation Young Researcher Fellowships are three-year grants that allow the grantee to establish an independent research group working on a research topic within natural science, social science, or the humanities.
Cells organize their biochemistry by forming liquid-like condensates of biomolecules that can act as tiny reactors to localize chemical reactions. Researchers from the Physics of Complex Systems together with with colleagues of the MPI of molecular cell biology and genetics in Dresden investigate the physical nature and material properties of protein condensates using microrheology techniques. They find that many protein condensates increase their viscosity with time and slow their dynamics, while always remaining soft and liquid-like. This is suggestive of glassy behaviors and could have important implications for cellular dynamics.
The surprising mise en abyme of a Rydberg molecule
We predict a new class of Rydberg molecules, comprised of a Rydberg atom and a ground state atom, whose energy spectrum conforms to a certain mise en abyme: nested within successive levels of the infinite electronic Rydberg series lie several finite vibrational Rydberg series. These intertwined series arise from Coulomb potentials in the electronic and nuclear degrees of freedom. The emergence of nuclear Coulomb interaction in a Rydberg molecule is surprising because it is otherwise found only in a heavy Bohr atom, consisting of a cation and an anion. We establish a connection between heavy Bohr atoms and Rydberg molecules via a dressed ion-pair model. In this new perspective, the low-energy scattering of the Rydberg electron off of the ground state atom dresses the neutral atom with a fractional negative charge. Coulomb forces between this dressed anion and the Rydberg cation lead to the formation of Rydberg molecules. In the class of Rydberg molecules we predict, this charge is nearly independent of the internuclear distance, yielding a Coulombic potential. Although this property and the effective ion-pair binding mechanism are very unusual, these molecules need not be: our work shows that these are generic, and can be formed from a Rydberg atom and any neutral polarizable object.
P. Giannakeas et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 125, 123401 (2020)
Power-law population heterogeneity governs epidemic waves
Differences between individuals reduce the number of infections required for herd immunity
In rapidly spreading epidemics such as the current coronavirus pandemic, it is usually expected that a majority of the population will be infected before herd immunity is achieved and the epidemic abates. The estimate of when the threshold for this is reached is usually based on models that assume all individuals in a population are identical. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden have used a new model to demonstrate that herd immunity can be achieved at a lower threshold if some individuals are more easily infected than others.
J. Neipel et al., PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239678 (2020).
A warm welcome to Ashley Cook who joined us from the University of California in Berkeley and heads the new research group on correlations and topology! The research will focus on the effects of correlations and topology in condensed matter systems, with special emphasis on searching for novel phases of matter and exploration of mechanisms for experimental realization of exotic phases of matter. This group aims to accelerate the process of transitioning from introduction of novel phases of matter into the literature to experimental realization and finally applications, merging what have previously been more disparate areas of expertise. While the research group focuses on theoretical condensed matter physics, it will work in close collaboration with experimental groups, in particular those at MPI-CPfS.
Call for Distinguished PKS Postdoctoral Fellowship 2021 now open!
Application deadline: 25 November 2020.
Distinguished PKS postdoctoral fellows appear personally along with the departments and groups on the main research page of the institute and are expected to have at least one year of postdoctoral experience at an institution other than the one at which their PhD was awarded. Applications for this fellowship directly after completion of the PhD might be considered in exceptional cases.
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Interaction-Induced Transparency for Strong-Coupling Polaritons
The propagation of light in strongly coupled atomic media takes place through the formation of polaritons—hybrid quasiparticles resulting from a superposition of an atomic and a photonic excitation. Here we consider the propagation under the condition of electromagnetically induced transparency and show that a novel many-body phenomenon can appear due to strong, dissipative interactions between the polaritons. Upon increasing the photon-pump strength, we find a first-order transition between an opaque phase with strongly broadened polaritons and a transparent phase where a long-lived polariton branch with highly tunable occupation emerges. Across this nonequilibrium phase transition, the transparency window is reconstructed via nonlinear interference effects induced by the dissipative polariton interactions. Our predictions are based on a systematic diagrammatic expansion of the nonequilibrium Dyson equations which can be controlled, even in the nonperturbative regime of large single-atom cooperativities, provided the polariton interactions are sufficiently long-ranged. Such a regime can be reached in photonic crystal waveguides thanks to the tunability of interactions, allowing us to observe the interaction-induced transparency transition even at low polariton densities.
J. Lang et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 125, 133604 (2020)