Sep. 12, 2002 MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Research by a West Virginia University physicist on chemical waves could one day lead to new ways of controlling the speed of mutant genes and other foreign matter as it flows through the body's bloodstream.
Physics Professor Boyd Edwards reported in the Sept. 2 issue of Physical Review Letters that a chemical wave front moving through a tube filled with fluid moving in the opposite direction is not slowed by the liquid. Laws of nature would dictate otherwise in most cases.
"We've learned chemical waves are like pedestrians in a hurry, said Dr. Edwards. "Head winds don't slow them down but may bend them out of shape. Tail winds, on the other hand, speed them along."
The article, "Poiseuille Advection of Chemical Reaction Fluids", is also available on the Physical Review Letters Web site at http://prl.aps.org/. Physical Review Letters is a journal of the American Physical Society.
Using trusted equations common with physics, Edwards predicted that a chemical wave front moving through a tube filled with fluid moving in the opposite direction develops a trailing spike at the center of the tube. The spike consumes just enough extra fluid to compensate for the flow, thereby allowing the wave front to travel at its usual speed. In contrast, a chemical wave moving in the same direction as the flow is carried along by the flow, and travels faster than usual.
Laboratory experiments are already under way at WVU to test these predictions. Deeper theoretical understanding is being sought by physics doctoral student Robert Spangler.
"Research in chemical waves may prove to be useful in medicine, since chemical waves are similar to biological waves found in the body," Edwards said. "One example is electrical waves that cause the heart muscle to contract. Research on chemical waves might lead to the design of pacemakers which can better respond to life-threatening fibrillation."
It may also lead to improved treatments for the spread of poisons and mutant genes through the bloodstream, he added.
Edwards, who has received funding from the National Science Foundation and other agencies, has been studying theoretical nonlinear fluid dynamics and statistical physics for several years and has written over 40 publications in refereed journals. This is the third article he has authored for Physical Review Letters. Last April, he co-authored "River Meandering Dynamics" which was published in Physical Review E.
Edwards joined the physics faculty in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences in 1986. He received the WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award and the WVU College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher Award, both in 1992. He received the June Harless Award for Exceptional Teaching in 1998. Edwards earned his doctorate from Stanford University.
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