Cosmic Connection

Greg Huber, deputy director of UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

 We humans may 

 be more aligned with the universe than we realize.

 According to research published in the journal Physical Review C, neutron stars and cell cytoplasm have something in common: structures that  resemble multistory parking garages.

 In 2014, UC Santa Barbara soft condensed-matter physicist Greg Huber and colleagues explored the biophysics of such shapes — helices that  connect stacks of evenly spaced sheets — in a cellular organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Huber and his colleagues dubbed them  Terasaki ramps after their discoverer, Mark Terasaki, a cell biologist at the University of Connecticut.

 Huber thought these “parking garages” were unique to soft matter (like the interior of cells) until he happened upon the work of nuclear physicist Charles Horowitz at Indiana University. Using computer simulations, Horowitz and his team had found the same shapes deep in the crust of neutron stars.

“I called Chuck and asked if he was aware that we had seen these structures in cells and had come up with a model for them,” said Huber, the deputy director of UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP). “It was news to him, so I realized then that there could be some fruitful interaction.”

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Similar shapes — structures consisting of stacked sheets connected by helical ramps — have been found in cell cytoplasm (left) and neutron stars (right).