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French physicists believe they can solve the mystery behind dozens of nuclear experiments conducted years ago. The experiments, conducted with a variety of detectors, energies, and colliding nuclear species, left puzzling results, so puzzling and hard to interpret that many of the experimenters turned their attention to the study of highly spinning nuclei, a quite fashionable subject at the time.
Like a pyramid-shaped methane (CH4) molecule held together by the electromagnetic force, a pyramidal nucleus would consist of protons and neutrons held together by the strong nuclear force. Such a nuclear molecule -- in effect the smallest pyramid in the universe -- would be only a few femtometers (10-15 meter) on a side and millions of times smaller in volume than methane molecules.
Just as there are so-called "magic" nuclei with just the right number of neutrons and protons that readily form stable spherical nuclei, so there are expected to be such magic numbers for forming pyramid nuclei too. Stable, in this case, means that the state persists for 1012 to 1014 times longer than the typical timescale for nuclear reactions, namely 10-21 seconds.
Lapo Casetti (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Lorenzo Mazzoni have attempted to make the "energy landscape" method even more geometrical by characterizing the folding forces at work as being a form of curvature in the bowl-like well in which the protein is operating. This is analogous to what Albert Einstein did in characterizing gravity as the curvature of spacetime in which planets and stars move about. Mazzoni and Casetti seek to determine what it is about the curvature of the energy landscape that encourages proteins to fold and other polymers not to fold.