Johannes Kalliauer of MIT CSHub uses civil engineering principles to shed new light on molecular dynamics, concrete hinges, and flooding.

from bridges to dna: civil engineering across disciplines

Johannes Kalliauer is a postdoc at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. Photo: Andrew Paul Laurent

How is DNA like a bridge? This question is not a riddle or logic game, it is a concern of Johannes Kalliauer’s doctoral thesis.

As a student at TU Wien in Austria, Kalliauer was faced with a monumental task: combining approaches from civil engineering and theoretical physics to better understand the forces that act on DNA.

Kalliauer, now a postdoc at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, says he modeled DNA as though it were a beam, using molecular dynamics principles to understand its structural properties.

“The mechanics of very small objects, like DNA helices, and large ones, like bridges, are quite similar. Each may be understood in terms of Newtonian mechanics. Forces and moments act on each system, subjecting each to deformations like twisting, stretching, and warping,” says Kalliauer.

As a 2020 article from TU Wien noted, Kalliauer observed a counterintuitive behavior when examining DNA at an atomic level. Unlike a typical spring which becomes less coiled as it is stretched, DNA was observed to become more wound as its length was increased.

In situations like these where conventional logic appears to break down, Kalliauer relies on the intuition he has gained as an engineer.

“To understand this strange behavior in DNA, I turned to a fundamental approach: I examined what was the same about DNA and macroscopic structures and what was different. Civil engineers use methods and calculations which have been developed over centuries and which are very similar to the ones I employed for my thesis,” Kalliauer explains.

As Kalliauer continues, “Structural engineering is an incredibly versatile discipline. If you understand it, you can understand atomistic objects like DNA strands and very large ones like galaxies. As a researcher, I rely on it to help me bring new viewpoints to fields like biology. Other civil engineers can and should do the same.”

Kalliauer, who grew up in a small town in Austria, has spent his life applying unconventional approaches like this across disciplines. “I grew up in a math family. While none of us were engineers, my parents instilled an appreciation for the discipline in me and my two older sisters.”

After middle school, Kalliauer attended a technical school for civil engineering, where he discovered a fascination for mechanics. He also worked on a construction site to gain practical experience and see engineering applied in a real-world context.

Kalliauer studied out of interest intensely, working upwards of 100 hours per week to better understand coursework in university. “I asked teachers and professors many questions, often challenging their ideas. Above everything else, I needed to understand things for myself. Doing well on exams was a secondary concern.”

In university, he studied topics ranging from car crash testing to concrete hinges to biology. As a new member of the CSHub, he is studying how floods may be modeled with the statistical physics-based model provided by lattice density functional theory.

In doing this, he builds on the work of past and present CSHub researchers like Elli Vartziotis and Katerina Boukin.

“It’s important to me that this research has a real impact in the world. I hope my approach to engineering can help researchers and stakeholders understand how floods propagate in urban contexts, so that we may make cities more resilient,” he says.

Keyword: From bridges to DNA: civil engineering across disciplines

TECH'S NEWS RELATED

Spanish vultures released in Cyprus to replenish population

Some 15 Griffon vultures from Spain have been released into the wild in Cyprus to help revive the island population that’s dropped to just 8-10 birds because of deliberate poisoning, conservationists said Wednesday. The LIFE with Vultures CY group said the large birds were initially brought to the east Mediterranean ...

View more: Spanish vultures released in Cyprus to replenish population

MIT biologist Richard Hynes wins Lasker Award

Hynes and two other scientists will share the prize for their discoveries of proteins critical for cellular adhesion.

View more: MIT biologist Richard Hynes wins Lasker Award

Larval health of an Antarctic cold-water coral species may be resistant to warming water

The larvae of an Antarctic cold-water coral species may be resistant to warming water Credit: Dann Blackwood The larval health of an Antarctic cold-water coral species may be resistant to warming water temperatures, a University of Maine study finds, bringing new hope for the climate change resilience of deep-sea ...

View more: Larval health of an Antarctic cold-water coral species may be resistant to warming water

You don't have to be a cute koala to be an Instagram influencer. Give lizards and bugs a chance

The amount of engagement posts featuring each group of animal (taxon) received. Categories that do not share letters are significantly different from each other, e.g. mammals (b) received higher engagement than invertebrates, birds and reptiles (a) but not molluscs, fish or amphibians (ab). All significant differences were relatively small ...

View more: You don't have to be a cute koala to be an Instagram influencer. Give lizards and bugs a chance

Are extreme heat waves happening more than expected? Research says not yet

Temperatures from June 28, 2021, were extremely unusual for the area around Seattle, Washington United States. Credit: National Weather Service When the 2021 Pacific Northwest heat wave peaked at 121 degrees Fahrenheit, it buckled roads, melted power lines, killed hundreds and led to a devastating wildfire. Climate scientists were ...

View more: Are extreme heat waves happening more than expected? Research says not yet

Satellites track monstrous hurricane Ian as it threatens 'catastrophic' devastation in Florida

NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of Hurricane Ian at about 12:00 a.m. EDT (16:00 GMT) on September 27, 2022, (Image credit: NASA) Hurricane Ian has grown above the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico into an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm after swamping Cuba with 12 ...

View more: Satellites track monstrous hurricane Ian as it threatens 'catastrophic' devastation in Florida

Scientists create 'non-psychedelic' compound with same anti-depressant effect

Representation of the serotonin 2A Receptor (5HT2AR) signaling protein complex bound with the novel compound R-69 (in subset, magenta). Credit: Roth Lab, UNC School of Medicine While illegal for recreational use, psychedelic drugs are showing great promise as treatments for severe depression and anxiety, as well as alcohol addiction ...

View more: Scientists create 'non-psychedelic' compound with same anti-depressant effect

Breakthrough: Physicists Take Particle Self-Assembly to New Level by Mimicking Biology

The illustration shows how droplets with different DNA strands first combine into chains, which are then programmed to fold into specific geometries, analogous to protein folding. The carpet highlights one folding pathway of a hexamer chain folding into a polytetrahedron. The zoom shows how the formation of DNA double ...

View more: Breakthrough: Physicists Take Particle Self-Assembly to New Level by Mimicking Biology

Dead fish breathes new life into the evolutionary origin of fins and limbs

The rise of fishes illuminated by discovery of fossil treasure hoard

Rare fossil teeth overturn long-held views about evolution of vertebrates

Water fleas as 'canaries in a coal mine' offer key to managing chemical pollution

The process of waves carrying plasma heat is observed for the first time

Ancient 'shark' from China may be humans' oldest jawed ancestor

Ruchika Tulshyan

New method makes it possible to assess the direct effects of human land use on the carbon cycle

Menacing Florida, Hurricane Ian nears catastrophic Category 5

Half world's birds in decline, species moving 'ever faster' to extinction

Your medical implant or food wrapper could someday be made of CBD

Western forests, snowpack, and wildfires appear trapped in vicious climate cycle

OTHER TECH NEWS

;