Contact: Diane Greenberg (516) 344-2347
or Mona S. Rowe (516) 344-5056
Issued 12/21/98
#98-124

 

BROOKHAVEN SPOTLIGHTS

NOTE TO EDITORS: "Brookhaven Spotlights" is issued periodically to bring you up to date on some of the latest newsworthy developments at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.


VIEWING VIRAL INFECTION:
A KEY TO DRUG DESIGN AND GENE THERAPY

Adenovirus, one of several viruses that cause the common cold, must bind to a specific protein on the surface of human cells in order to initiate infection. The gene encoding this human protein was recently identified by Brookhaven researchers.

Using powerful x-rays from the Laboratory's National Synchrotron Light Source, the researchers now have determined the crystal structure of this human protein bound to a fragment of adenovirus. This atomic-resolution view of the first event in infection should guide future efforts to develop antiviral drugs to counter natural infections. It will also help researchers to adapt adenoviruses for use in gene therapy, which may lead to the elimination of genetic diseases by replacing defective genes with normal ones.


A NOVEL DETECTOR WITH DUAL POTENTIAL

Brookhaven physicists have invented a novel detector made of a lithium niobium oxide crystal that has potential applications in particle accelerators and in fiber optics technology. The detector has several uses in accelerators: pinpointing the timing and location of a particle beam; and coupled with a particle detector, looking for individual atomic particles, such as electrons and muons. These functions can be done much faster and more accurately than with current detectors.

Further, the new crystal detector potentially may be useful in telecommunications, modulating laser light so that signals can be transported through fiber optic cable with greater speed and reliability.The new detector is currently being tested at Brookhaven's Accelerator Test Facility.


DISMANTLING RUSSIA'S NUCLEAR-POWERED
SUBMARINES SAFELY


As part of an agreement signed by Russia, Norway and the U.S., known as the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation, Brookhaven engineers are helping Russians to manage low-level radioactive waste that was generated by their program to dismantle nuclear-powered submarines. In the city of Murmansk in northwestern Russia, they recently demonstrated that a polymer sealant, Polihybrid 705, could be used to line a low-level radioactive waste storage facility, preventing radioactive contents from leaching into the ground. Brookhaven's collaborator on the project, the Interbranch Coordination Center Nuclide, is collecting and analyzing data on how well the sealant is withstanding arctic and radioactive conditions. Brookhaven and Nuclide engineers will also conduct radiation-protection training sessions for the Russian shipyard workers and Navy personnel engaged in submarine dismantlement activities. This effort will lead to safer radioactive waste management practices in Russia and protect the fragile arctic ecosystem from damaging doses of radiation.


SOLVING THE MYSTERIES OF STRANGE MATTER

An international collaboration of physicists, including Brookhaven physicists, are using a newly assembled array of 14 germanium detectors to focus on strange matter. They create this form of elementary matter using beams of particles called kaons at Brookhaven Lab's Alternating Gradient Synchrotron.

When an elementary particle called a strange quark is attached to a nucleon, a particle called a hyperon is formed. Hyperons are exotic, or strange, because they form nuclei that do not normally exist in nature - hypernuclei. These hyperons decay slowly and their "strangeness" is preserved in strong interactions, one of the primary interactions of elementary particles. The more physicists learn about these strange particles, the better they may be able to understand how super-dense neutron stars were formed.


A POWERFUL TECHNIQUE TO STUDY
CHEMICAL REACTIONS IN COMBUSTION

Brookhaven chemists are investigating the chemical reactions that occur during combustion to test the modern theories of reactions during the process. To do so, they use a technique called FM laser spectroscopy to view and analyze, one collision at a time, the molecular reactions that occur when a fuel burns. Specifically, the researchers are focusing on pyrolysis, the falling apart of a molecule as it is exposed to heat.

The laser spectroscopy technique invented by Brookhaven chemists for these experiments is able to simultaneously measure the velocities, rotations and vibrational motions of particles produced during pyrolysis. Since the technique significantly improves the signal-to-noise ratio in these delicate experiments, chemical questions can be answered more accurately. Such basic research may aid combustion engineers in their search for maximum fuel efficiency and minimum pollution.

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