Biophysical Society Bulletin | February 2023

President’s Message

now political, and we have a responsibility tomake the political personal. We have to fight for and with each other.” I would love to hear from the BPSmembership what you have been doing to fight racism and bigotry, when you’re not just (figuratively) sitting there. And let’s keep the ideas coming—promoting diversity is foundational to BPS as an explicit goal moving forward. Lead with Love If there is one thing I can do right now, it is to combat despon dency and the need to cocoon. This was a common reaction to the pandemic. While some found newmotivation working from home, the flip side is a loss of camaraderie and the collaboration and support that comes fromworking together in the same physical space. I’m thinking especially of graduate students, who sometimes sit alone in their offices or at the lab bench, their clink ing glassware the only echoes in the halls of academia. It can be a lonely experience. Supervising faculty need to see this challenge for what it is and what it is not. We need to fight the malaise that happens when esprit de corps flags, and not blame it on a lack of a trainee’s self-discipline. We need to get more involved in gen erating energy in the laboratory, to help regenerate the magic we experienced previously. Maybe they’ll want to show upmore with a little more encouragement. A little more support. A little (dare I say it?) unconditional love. Tell them you believe in them, even (or especially) after they are conspicuously absent the day before. As BPSmember Edwin Antony offers, “I prefer to take a positive spin on it. [The pandemic] did teachme to redefine success in research. All around, the importance of paying attention to the mental state of the team [has risen] to the top of the list.” If that strikes the curmudgeons in the audience as coddling or indulgent, hold a mirror up to your face the next time you walk into a room and are greeted warmly by one or more of your colleagues. I’ve noticed even the toughest among us grinning like children getting a warmhug. Emerging frompandemic paralysis requires a focus on the mental health of our trainees (and ourselves). I keep a stack of an old book, Feeling Good: The NewMood Therapy by David Burns , inmy office cupboard and hand it out to trainees as if it were a cure for the common cold. The book takes a cognitive therapy approach, providing a set of mental exercises to retrain the brain to think in a different, more positive, more productive way. It worked for me when I was a graduate student; maybe it’ll work for you, too. And whether you are a graduate student or Nobel laureate, try not to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend. Or your dog. In fact, talk to yourself like you would your dog, per another popular meme: “Hey sweet girl! Look at that beautiful belly! You’re so clever! Want a treat?” Think Bigger On the scientific front, I propose more aspiration. In our recent BPS strategic planning exercise, we landed on the following for our vision: to harness the full potential of biophysics to seek

knowledge, improve the human condition, and preserve the plan et for future generations. A Council member not able to attend the meeting later asked, reasonably, are we really doing anything to preserve the planet? As citizens, we recognize the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change; as individuals, we may have resolved to take fewer plane trips, drive electric vehicles, install solar panels, or eat less meat. But how can we, as a scientific field, help forestall climate change or other catastrophic threats? I’m spit-balling here, but I’d like to start the conversation. Our col leagues have already made some important, or even transforma tive, inroads. For example, did you know that plant-basedmeats were developed using thermodynamic principles and condensate biology? Experimentalists have manipulated biopolymers of plant proteins and polysaccharides at different concentrations, pH, mineral composition, and temperature to undergo phase separa tion through thermodynamic incompatibility and coacervation, via repulsive or attractive interactions, respectively. Ultimately this process produces the fiber strands we critically associate with meat. Given recent reports that plant-based burgers generate 98% less greenhouse gas emissions thanmeat burgers (Bryant, C. J. 2022. Plant-based animal product alternatives are healthier and more environmentally sustainable than animal products. Future Foods 6, 10.1016/j.fufo.2022.100174), this emerging industry is proof that innovation using biophysics methodologies can effect real change. Inmany national laboratories and research institutions around the world, work is focused on planting non-food bioenergy crops such as switchgrass, energy sorghum, or poplar onmarginal, nonagricultural land. Much focus is on the remaining biomass after sugars are extracted, particularly engineering microbes to improve biomass deconstruction andmaximize yield of aromatic monomers that can be used as fuel or useful chemicals. According to TimDonohue , Director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, “biophysical approaches will help address this grand societal challenge by contributing to the cost-effective synthesis of fuels and chemicals from renew able resources, sustainable food production, and providing new sources of energy for use by all citizens of the planet.” Lest I sound like Mr. McGuire in The Graduate (“One word: plas tics.”), I’mnot suggesting all biophysicists should study plants. We should continue to skirt the diffraction limit of light and find evenmore ways tomeasure force and resolve structure at the nanoscopic scale. But in somany ways our field is, by definition, interdisciplinary; the future of biophysics holds power and prom ise as we step across boundaries, technical and social, to protect and expand our world. — Gail Robertson , President

February 2023



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