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EPJ B Highlight - Fractal patterns in growing bacterial colonies

Simulated fractal patterns of bacterial colonies generated using different diffusion coefficients (X axis) and nutrient concentrations (Y axis)

A new agent-based computer modelling technique has been applied to the growth and sliding movement of colonies of bacteria

As many people will remember from school science classes, bacteria growing on solid surfaces form colonies that can be easily visible to the naked eye. Each of these is a complex biological system in its own right; colonies display collective behaviours that indicate a kind of 'social intelligence' and grow in fractal patterns that can resemble snowflakes. Despite this complexity, colony growth can be modelled using principles of basic physics. Lautaro Vassallo and his co-workers in Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina have modelled such growth using a novel method in which the behaviour of each of the bacteria is simulated separately. This work has now been published in the journal EPJ B.

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EPJ E Highlight - Shocking embryonic limbs into shape

Mechanism of formation of an early vertebrate embryo. Each of the rings of cells in the round blastula (shown in colours) forms into a different part of the embryo or placenta.

Electrical stimulation of early chicken embryos has shed light on the process through which the limbs of all vertebrates are formed.

Every vertebrate, whatever its eventual form, starts embryonic life in the same way – as a hollow ball or disc of cells called a blastula. In theory, knowing the mechanism through which the blastula is formed into the shape of an animal could help correct defects and even, one day, regenerate body parts. But evolution and genetics are of little help in understanding this process. Now, however, Vincent Fleury and Ameya Vaishnavi Murukutla from Université Paris Diderot, Paris, France have used experiments with chicken embryos to propose a mechanism for vertebrate limb formation. These findings have been published in the journal EPJ E.

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EPJ B Highlight - Conductivity at the edges of graphene bilayers

Intriguing properties arise in graphene bilayers

The conductivity of dual layers of graphene greatly depends on the states of carbon atoms at their edges; a property which could have important implications for information transmissions on quantum scales.

Made from 2D sheets of carbon atoms arranged in honeycomb lattices, graphene displays a wide array of properties regarding the conduction of heat and electricity. When two layers of graphene are stacked on top of each other to form a ‘bilayer’, these properties can become even more interesting. At the edges of these bilayers, for example, atoms can sometimes exist in an exotic state of matter referred to as the ‘quantum spin Hall’ (QSH) state, depending on the nature of the interaction between their spins and their motions, referred to as their ‘spin-orbit coupling’ (SOC). While the QSH state is allowed for ‘intrinsic’ SOC, it is destroyed by ‘Rashba’ SOC. In an article recently published in EPJ B, Priyanka Sinha and Saurabh Basu from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati showed that these two types of SOC are responsible for variations in the ways in which graphene bilayers conduct electricity.

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EPJ Plus Highlight - Science puts historical claims to the test

Science provides valuable dating tools for artefacts. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/ 85265584@N00/2434302237

The latest analytical techniques available to scientists can confirm the validity of historical sources in some cases, and suggest a need for reconsideration in others

As any historian will tell you, we can rarely take the claims made by our ancestors at face value. The authenticity of many of the artefacts which shape our understanding of the past have been hotly debated for centuries, with little consensus amongst researchers. Now, many of these disputes are being resolved through scientific research, including two studies recently published in EPJ Plus. The first of these, led by Diego Armando Badillo-Sanchez at the University of Évora in Portugal, analysed an artefact named ‘Francisco Pizarro’s Banner of Arms’ – believed to have been carried by the Spanish conquistador during his conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century. The second team, headed by Armida Sodo at Roma Tre University in Italy, investigated a colour print of Charlemagne – the medieval ruler who united much of Western Europe – assumed to be from the 16th century.

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EPJ D Highlight - Fragmenting ions and radiation sensitizers

Mass spectrum of 5-fluorouracil showing ions produced by impact with high-energy electrons.

A new study using mass spectrometry is helping piece together what happens when DNA that has been sensitized by the oncology drug 5-fluorouracil is subjected to the ionising radiation used in radiotherapy.

The anti-cancer drug 5-fluorouracil (5FU) acts as a radiosensitizer: it is rapidly taken up into the DNA of cancer cells, making the cells more sensitive to radiotherapy. However, little is known about the precise mechanism through which radiation damages cells. A team of scientists led by Peter van der Burgt at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, Ireland have now used mass spectrometry to shed some light on this process; their work was recently published in EPJ D. A full understanding of this process could ultimately lead to new ways of protecting normal tissues from the radiation damage caused by essential cancer treatments.

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EPJ E Topical review - Liquid-liquid criticality in the dielectric constant and refractive index: A perspective

The critical region in the phase diagram of condensed matter systems such as fluids or fluid mixtures is characterized by the anomalous behaviour of specific thermodynamic properties. In a new review article published in EPJE, Patricia Losada-Pérez (Department of Physics, Université Libre de Bruxelles) describes recent progress in the understanding of the behaviour of two intimately related properties, the dielectric constant ε and the refractive index n, when approaching the liquid-liquid critical point in binary liquid mixtures.

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EPJ D Highlight - Enabling longer space missions

A Hall thruster in operation. Image by the user Dstaak at Wikimedia Commons .

Hall thrusters, which are already used to propel spacecraft and satellites on long missions, could be used for even longer ones if models for minimising surface erosion were taken into account.

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has reignited interest in space travel. However, almost any mission beyond the moon, whether manned or unmanned, will require the spacecraft to remain fully operational for at least several years. The Hall thruster is a propulsion system that is often used by craft involved in long missions. A recent study by Andrey Shashkov and co-workers at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Russia has shown how the operating lives of these systems can be further extended; their work was recently published in EPJ D.

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EPJ D Highlight - Quantum momentum

Schemes for measuring time-of-flight in classical mechanics (top) and quantum mechanics (bottom). In quantum mechanics, the classical particle is represented by a wave packet. Values of X indicate position and t time.

A new quantum-mechanical model has been developed that allows the momentum of quantum particles to be measured using a variant of the classical time-of-flight.

Quantum mechanics is an extraordinarily successful way of understanding the physical world at extremely small scales. Through it, a handful of rules can be used to explain the majority of experimentally observable phenomena. Occasionally, however, we come across a problem in classical mechanics that poses particular difficulties for translation into the quantum world. A new study published in EPJ D has provided some insights into one of them: momentum. The authors, theoretical physicists Fabio Di Pumpo and Matthias Freyberger from Ulm University, Germany, present an elegant mathematical model of quantum momentum that is accessible through another classical concept: time-of-flight.

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EPJ B Highlight - Entropy explains RNA diffusion rates in cells

RNA molecules diffuse in characteristic ways. https://commons.wikimedia.org/ wiki/File:50S-subunit_of_the_ ribosome_3CC2.png

Mathematical analysis reveals that the exponential patterns in RNA diffusion rates linked to small-scale diffusive behaviours

Recent studies have revealed that within cells of both yeast and bacteria, the rates of diffusion of RNA proteins – complex molecules that convey important information throughout the cell – are distributed in characteristic exponential patterns. As it turns out, these patterns display the highest possible degree of disorder, or ‘entropy’, of all possible diffusion processes within the cell. In new research published in EPJ B, Yuichi Itto at Aichi Institute of Technology in Japan explores this behaviour further by zooming in to study local fluctuations in the diffusion rates of RNA proteins. By associating these small-scale diffusion rates with time-varying values for entropy, he finds that the rates of change of entropy in certain time intervals are larger in areas with higher RNA diffusion rates.

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EPJ Data Science Highlight - Women’s disadvantage: because of who they are, or what they do?

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Women often find themselves strongly disadvantaged in the field of software development, in particular when it comes to open source. In a study recently published in EPJ Data Science, Orsolya Vasarhelyi and Balazs argue that this disadvantage stems from gendered behavior rather than categorical discrimination: women are at a disadvantage because of what they do, rather than because of who they are.

Continue reading the guest post by Orsolya Vasarhelyi and Balazs Vedres on the SpringerOpen blog.

Editor-in-Chief
Paolo Biscari
Thank you very much for your assistance and quick and excellent handling of the manuscript.

Jakub Bielecki, Institute of Nuclear Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow, Poland

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