Close encounter with a Nobel Laureate

Olive oil with Balsamic VinegarI always get a bit stressed before I give a talk, so I was listening nervously to the talk 40 mins before mine, when in ambles Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson. He took a seat at the front left of the room. He is in nineties now so long since retired but clearly drops round sometimes. The workshop is at Princeton where he is an Emeritus Professor. My seventh and eighth slides were on his classic More is Different article from 1972. I did slightly brick myself at that point. But I needn’t have worried, he ambled out after the next talk, so missed mine. I guess I am a bit disappointed, but I was also a bit less stressed.

The meeting has been great. Yesterday was a blizzard of droplets, as most speakers, including me, talked about liquid droplets in cells. It turns out cells of our bodies look like the olive oil with balsamic vinegar shown above, only instead of just one type of droplet (the black balsamic vinegar) there are 10 or more, each doing a different function.

We are only beginning to understand these liquid droplets. For example, one of the talks had a lot of good data on liquid droplets of the unfortunately named Lethal-And-Feminising 1 (LAF-1) protein. For the first time we are getting a good idea of what sort of liquids these are, it turns out they are about viscous as honey. Droplets of other proteins are implicated in diseases such as some cancers. We are long away from treatments at the moment, but the hope is that if we can understand these droplets, the hope is that we could work smart ways of dissolving or gelling them to interfer with them.

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