Physics Colloquium - Friday, March 30th, 2007,
Center; Refreshments at 3:30 P.M. in
The Soft Geometry of Phospholipid Membranes: from Tethers to the Endoplasmic Reticulum
Center for Cell Analysis and Modeling
Department of Cell Biology
University of Connecticut Health Center
Farmington, CT 06032
Phospholipid bilayers are thin membranes made up of two layers of amphiphilic molecules,
molecules which have a hydrophilic polar head and a hydrophobic hydrocarbon tail. These
fluctuating sheets form one of the physical bases of the architecture of the cell. They are
interesting from the point of view of the statistical mechanics of 2d extended objects and the
differential geometry of 2d manifolds. Biological membranes in the cell are composite
structures, which involve a great variety of proteins and other molecules, and are enormously
more complex than the ideal membranes studied by theoretical physicists and mathematicians.
Nonetheless, I'll focus on how a small number of geometric and physical quantities can be used
to approach and solve problems posed by biologists.