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What is Biophysical Chemistry?

Biophysical chemistry is the science which deals with the study of the biological systems by applying the combination of concepts of both physics (scientific study of both matter and energy and how they interact with each other) and chemistry (Complex application of physics which focuses on the interaction of matter and energy in chemical systems).

The interdisciplinary topic, biophysical chemistry combines the principles of biology, physics and chemistry and whose study mainly focused at the collection and quantitative analysis of data for predictive models of biological systems at a molecular level and chemical sequence level.

Unlike biophysics which covers all the scales of biological organization right from the molecular level to organism and finally populations, biology which focuses on the system’s phenotype which is to be studied and biochemistry which mainly focus on functions, role and structure of biomolecules, biophysical chemistry employs different physical chemistry techniques for probing the structure of biological systems. Biosystems are very complex and vast to understand however process becomes easy and simplified when we use physical model to learn how the changes occur in a system every time.

Some of the examples where the biophysical chemistry is applied using the concepts of physics, chemistry and biology includes −

With the use of physical concepts like quantum mechanics, hydrodynamics, optics, electromagnetic and thermodynamics many biological processes can be explained physiologically such as

Muscle contraction

Neural communication

Vision etc.

The most recent Nobel Prize winning study which falls under the biophysical chemistry category is the X-ray crystallographic studies of ribosome which is the site of protein synthesis. Protein crystals includes the atoms of the whole molecule which are packed into a crystal shape and when X-rays are used causes diffraction of light.

Many biophysical chemists are known to show interest in the topics like protein structures that may include enzyme activity which is either due to shape of substrate molecule or an alteration in its shape when a metal ion is bonded. Also the structural and functional analysis of biological cell membranes using the studies on models of supramolecular structures like liposomes and phospholipids.

By understanding the thermodynamics, we can build the specific protein models. Protein folding is mainly governed by thermodynamics. Proteins tend to be in folded state as it reduces the free energy. Proteins has well defined 3D structures. The science of understanding proteins as molecules with legitimate structures is a new challenge in the present world and Protein Folding is an achievement or challenge in biophysical chemistry Diffusion which is the net movement of particles from high concentration region to low concentration medium until it attains an equilibrium is another interesting area under the umbrella of biophysical chemistry. Here movement of ions across the biological cell membranes is studied.

Fluid mechanics is another interesting area used in the biology where many biological processes involve the movement of particles in fluids for example during blood circulation, gas exchange etc.

Techniques for Study of Biological Systems

Biophysical chemists make the use of different methods of physical chemistry to gain knowledge about the biological systems at both atomic and molecular level. Here the methods are overlapped with the other fields of science like biology, physics, bio-chemistry and chemistry to study the molecular structures, modes of interaction, size and shape, polarity of different biological molecules. The three different biomolecules which are important for the survival of all the living organisms includes proteins, nucleic acids and lipids.

Some of the following techniques of biophysical chemistry which are important to study the structures and functions of biological molecules are discusses below. All the techniques are mainly focused on 4 categories. They are

Thermal Techniques

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and Isothermal Titration Calorimetry (ITC) are the 2 techniques can be discussed in this category. These techniques provide information on nucleic acids about nucleic acids-ligand interactions, protein-ligand interactions.


It is a type of thermoanalytical technique in which sample cell containing molecules of interest and reference material are maintained at same temperature by heating simultaneously until it reaches a differential point. DSC hence measures the change in heat which is due to absorption or radiation during temperature difference between sample and reference.


This is yet another type of thermal technique which is sensitive in qualitative and quantitative measuring of energy released due to interactions between sample molecules and the biological reference molecules.

Electrical Techniques Spectroscopic Techniques Miscellaneous

Many techniques now made possible to detect the structural changes in proteins which are responsible for their functioning and also to quantify the energetics of biological membranes. Radioactivity-based analysis technique is one such method which uses the radioisotopes to determine the influx and out flux measurement of ions and other substances across the cell membranes.


Biophysical chemistry is an application of basic concepts or principles of physical chemistry to solve the problems in biology. All the living organisms depend mainly on the three important biological molecules whose chemical characteristics are due to their organic and inorganic nature.

Proteins, lipids and nucleic acids are the three main macromolecules within the biological system. Biophysical chemists use many techniques of this field to study the biological molecules within the system. All these techniques are mainly categorized into 4 types that are thermal, electrical, spectroscopic and other miscellaneous group of techniques.

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Plamen Ivanov And The Boston University Network Physiology Lab Study Connections Between Organ Systems

Mapping the Body’s Internet Physics researcher Plamen Ivanov and team study the body’s communications network

The patient seemed to be pulling through.

After the accident, he was rushed into surgery and, from there, into the intensive care unit, where he was recovering. But, days later, the dominoes started falling. One by one, his organs failed. The patient didn’t survive. Later, trying to understand what went wrong, doctors ordered an autopsy. But the result was a puzzle: the organs weren’t damaged. So why did they shut down?

This is a typical story of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, better known as multiple organ failure. Although it’s the leading cause of death in patients who make it through the first few hours after a trauma, its origins remain a mystery.

Plamen Ch. Ivanov (GRS’99), a research professor of physics in Boston University’s College of Arts & Sciences, and his colleagues at BU’s Laboratory for Network Physiology think the answer may lie not in the individual organs but in the biological communications network that keeps them working in sync. Now, with the support of a $1 million, four-year grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation, they are laying the groundwork for an emerging field—network physiology—to study these connections and generate a new human “atlas” that will reveal how organ systems interact in both sick and healthy patients.

Biologists and doctors have typically studied organs in isolation. If you’re having heart trouble, you go to the cardiologist; if your eyes are bothering you, you see an eye doctor. This “reductionist” approach “has been very useful scientifically in every field for the last two to three hundred years, but it has its limitations,” especially in biomedicine, where it is impossible to isolate the systems that make up the whole, says Joseph Loscalzo, who studies the related field of network medicine, which aims to understand the relation between diseases and genetic mutations using graphs and networks. He is Hersey Professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, chair of Harvard’s Department of Medicine, and Physician-in-Chief at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Loscalzo and Ivanov discovered that they were both interested in developing novel network approaches to medicine and the human body when Ivanov joined Harvard Medical School’s Sleep Medicine division. 

Treating organs in isolation also can’t explain medical crises that seem to happen in the space between individual organs, like multiple organ dysfunction, or altered states like coma.

Yet examining the linkages between the organs is a major challenge. For one thing, there’s the problem of time: each organ seems to hear the ticking of a different clock. The eyes and brain exchange lightning-quick signals in a matter of milliseconds; the kidneys plod along through a 24-hour cycle; the heart beats every second or so. Communication between the organs takes multiple forms, too. Electrical signals combine with chemical messengers like hormones to form a sort of internal full-body internet. And, of course, we still don’t have a complete understanding of how individual organs work.

But to figure out how the network functions, Ivanov and his colleagues have to start with even more basic questions, says Ronny Bartsch, formerly a BU research assistant professor of physics and now part of the faculty at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who has worked with Ivanov since 2008. “What do we measure?” he asks. “Do we have the technology to measure it? And can we make sense of the measurements?” It isn’t as simple as just collecting heart rate or EKG readings, points out Ivanov: the real challenge is getting useful information from these signals.

To address this challenge, Ivanov has assembled an interdisciplinary team of scientists at BU, including researchers with backgrounds in statistical and computational physics, neuroscience, physiology, applied mathematics, and biomedical engineering. The team also works with collaborators throughout Boston, including intensive care clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital, sleep researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and biomedical engineers at MD PnP, a maker of innovative biomedical devices. Ivanov is also an associate physiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a lecturer on medicine in Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.

The ultimate result of their work, they hope, will be a new way of looking at the human body—what Ivanov calls a dynamic “atlas” animated with the living, changing connections between organs. Ivanov describes the atlas as a collection of “blueprint reference maps” that will ultimately show how the body’s systems interact under all sorts of human conditions: healthy and sick, young and old, awake and asleep, stressed and relaxed. This atlas will be to the traditional, encyclopedia-style atlas of human anatomy what a live traffic report is to a paper road map, revealing not just the “infrastructure” of the body but the traffic that animates it.

“We want to understand how systems talk to each other,” but to do that, the systems have to be under certain controlled conditions, says Kang Liu, a research scientist in the physics department who earned his PhD from BU in 2013. So Ivanov and his colleagues asked themselves: When is the body most isolated from all the noises, sights, smells, and activity of the world? Answer: During sleep. Sleep also presented a compelling scientific mystery: How do the body and brain manage to seamlessly transition from one sleep stage to another, over and over again, each night?

Ivanov had previously studied how variations in heart rate change during each stage of sleep. The next step would be to see not just how individual systems operate during sleep, but to map how the connections between brain and body change as a person passes into light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. For full eight-hour sleep periods, Ivanov and his colleagues tracked subjects’ brain activity, eye movement, breathing, heart rate, and leg and chin movement. Then they looked for correlations between activity in each part of the body.

During deep sleep, they found, most of the body’s systems seemed to be disconnected. But new linkups suddenly switched on when each subject shifted into REM sleep. Even more connections flipped on for light sleep until, when subjects woke up, all the connections were suddenly illuminated. His team was astonished to find how quickly the communication network could be rearranged, Ivanov recalls. Though researchers had expected that the body’s “network topology”—that is, the shape of a map that represents its connectivity—would change over hours or days, no one had anticipated that it might change in a matter of seconds. The results were published in Nature Communications in 2012.

Sleep, though, is just the first test case in a much broader research program. In 2024, with the support of the Keck grant, Ivanov’s team will bring their work into a real-world laboratory where the stakes are, literally, life-and-death: the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), which takes a multidisciplinary approach to caring for severely ill patients. The goal: a new model of ICU monitoring in which the connections between a patient’s body systems are being constantly mapped in real time, so that dangerous breakdowns, like the ones that might cause multiple organ dysfunction, can be anticipated and even prevented.

Today’s monitoring devices aren’t capable of taking in and integrating all this data from multiple systems, says Ivanov. That’s where the device makers at MD PnP come in. Working with MGH’s MICU physicians and members of the Network Physiology Lab, they will be designing new all-in-one monitors that record heart rate, respiration, and more.

Making sense of all that data, and discovering which dropped connections should raise alarms, will fall to data scientists like Aijing Lin, who is visiting the Network Physiology Lab from Beijing Jiaotong University in China, and Xiaolin Huang, a biomedical signals expert visiting from Nanjing University. With the right biomedical data in hand, they hope, it may even be possible to flip the “reactive” model of critical care on its head and prevent the events, like heart failure, that send patients to the ICU in the first place.

“It’s very difficult to predict sudden cardiovascular events,” says Huang. Doctors track patients’ blood pressure and heart rate, but by the time blood pressure starts dropping, says Huang, it is too late to stop a heart attack. “Maybe we can see something in the coupling between systems that we cannot see in the individual systems,” says Ivanov. That could help doctors predict imminent cardiac events before heart rate and blood pressure change.

Such developments are still years or even decades away, emphasizes Ivanov. “This Keck-funded pioneering research program is in a similar stage to what the Human Genome project was 25 years ago, when they started to develop first genomic maps,” he says. Just as it has been a long road from the first human genome to meaningful medical applications, it will take time for network physiology to mature into new diagnostics and treatments. When it does, though, Ivanov hopes that it will reveal a fresh picture not just of illness, but of health, too. “Most biologists have a healthy skepticism about whether this approach will yield new insight. But the evidence that it will is growing,” says Loscalzo.

“The human body is like an orchestra,” says Ivanov. “Each instrument has its own sound and frequency. Each works on a different timescale, with different dynamics. If the musicians are all playing different tunes, it doesn’t matter how skillfully they are performing—the result will be a cacophony. But when they all come together as an orchestra, the result is something beautiful.”

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Breaking The Chains: Overcoming Limitations Of Distributed Systems


In today’s digital era, businesses and organizations are continually seeking innovative methods to improve their computing infrastructure for better performance and scalability.

One such approach is adopting distributed systems, known for their ability to share resources across multiple interconnected computers, leading to higher efficiency and reliability.

However, these decentralized networks come with inherent limitations that can pose challenges in various aspects like shared memory management, global clock synchronization, and network congestion.

In this article, we will delve into the key limitations of distributed systems while also discussing strategies to mitigate them effectively.

Key Takeaways

Distributed systems have limitations such as absence of shared memory, global clock synchronization issues, high setup cost and security risks, and communication latency.

Mitigation strategies like load balancing, encryption and authentication techniques along with redundancy/fault tolerance measures can help address these limitations effectively.

Load balancing helps distribute workload evenly across nodes while encryption and authentication ensure secure data transmission. Redundancy and fault tolerance mechanisms guarantee system availability despite possible failures while effective error handling ensures quick resolution of issues.

Organizations must carefully consider the complexity of their applications when choosing mitigation strategies to reduce cost-effectiveness and security risks.

Limitations of Distributed Systems

Distributed systems have inherent limitations such as the absence of shared memory, global clock synchronization issues, high setup cost and security risks, and communication latency and network congestion.

Absence of Shared Memory

In a distributed system, one of the primary limitations is the absence of shared memory. Unlike centralized systems where all components have direct access to a common pool of memory resources, each computer in a distributed system has its own separate memory.

The absence of shared memory in distributed systems requires developers to implement complex strategies to ensure seamless communication and coordination among different nodes within the network.

Global Clock Synchronization Issues

In distributed systems, there is an absence of a global clock that can synchronize all the processes. This means different computers may have their own physical clocks which may not be synchronized with each other.

For example, imagine two users accessing a file stored on different computers within a distributed system. If one user accesses the file before another user’s changes are saved and synchronized across the entire system, it can lead to conflicts and data inconsistency.

To address this limitation, many distributed systems employ consensus algorithms like Raft or Paxos for consistent decision making across multiple nodes in real-time. Such solutions help mitigate synchronization issues by enabling multiple nodes to agree on shared timestamps irrespective of local clocks’ discrepancies.

High Setup Cost and Security Risks

One of the major limitations of distributed systems is the high setup cost and security risks that come with it. Setting up a distributed system involves multiple components such as hardware, software, networking devices, and security protocols.

Moreover, since data is transmitted across different systems in a distributed environment, there are always potential security risks involved. There could be unauthorized access to confidential data or even malicious attacks on one or more nodes in the system.

To mitigate these issues, organizations can implement redundancy and fault tolerance mechanisms that allow backup systems to takeover if any node fails during operation. Load balancing techniques also help distribute workload evenly across all available resources thus minimizing stress on individual network nodes.

Communication Latency and Network Congestion

One of the significant downsides of distributed systems is communication latency and network congestion. As more nodes are added to a distributed system, the amount of data that needs to be exchanged between them increases substantially, leading to an increase in network traffic.

Communication latency occurs when there is a delay between sending and receiving messages between different nodes within a network. In contrast, network congestion happens when too many requests try to access the same resources simultaneously, causing delays or data loss.

In summary, communication latency and network congestion pose serious challenges for distributed systems’ performance levels.

Mitigation Strategies for Limitations

To address the inherent limitations of distributed systems, mitigating strategies such as load balancing, encryption and authentication, redundancy and fault tolerance, and effective error handling must be implemented.

Load Balancing

Load Balancing is an essential strategy in distributed systems to overcome the limitations caused by network congestion and overloading. It involves distributing the workload across multiple processors or servers, ensuring that no single machine becomes overloaded with tasks. Here are some ways load balancing can mitigate limitations in distributed systems −

Increased Performance: Load balancing ensures that no single machine becomes overwhelmed with requests, thereby improving the overall performance and response time of the system.

Scalability: Load balancers can automatically detect changes to network topology and allocate resources accordingly, making it easier to scale up or down as needed.

Fault Tolerance: Load balancing helps ensure high availability by redirecting requests from failed servers to other functioning ones.

Resource Allocation: Load balancers can also optimize resource utilization by directing requests to machines with available capacity, leading to a more efficient distribution of resources.

Consensus Algorithms: Some load-balancing algorithms use consensus algorithms to maintain consistency between replicas of data across multiple servers.

Complex Strategy: The choice of load-balancing strategy depends on the application’s complexity and needs, including factors like cost-effectiveness and security risks.

Encryption and Authentication

Encryption and authentication are important strategies that can be used to mitigate the security risks and data loss limitations of distributed systems. Here are some effective ways to implement these strategies:

Implement Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption – SSL helps to prevent unauthorized access and tampering of data transmitted over a network.

Use firewalls – Firewalls can be used to control access to a network, ensuring only authorized users can connect.

Apply Multifactor Authentication – Multifactor authentication is a secure way of verifying user identity using multiple forms of identification such as passwords and biometrics.

Use Virtual Private Network (VPNs) – VPNs help in encrypting data transmission over public networks, such as the internet, providing secure communication between connected devices.

Implement encryption algorithms like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) – AES is one of the most popular symmetric encryption algorithms that ensure privacy and confidentiality while transmitting data over networks.

These encryption and authentication strategies can help mitigate security risks in distributed systems, thus improving their overall reliability and efficiency.

Redundancy and Fault Tolerance

One of the major limitations of distributed systems is the risk of system failures and data loss. However, redundancy and fault tolerance strategies can help mitigate these risks. Here are some ways to implement redundancy and fault tolerance in distributed systems:

Replication–Replicating data across multiple nodes can ensure that data is always available even if one node fails.

Consensus algorithms–These algorithms help in reaching a common agreement among nodes, which helps prevent inconsistencies and data loss.

Load balancing–Distributing the workload across different nodes ensures that no single node is overloaded, thus reducing the risk of system failure.

Fault-tolerant architectures–Using architectures such as microservices architecture or message queues can help minimize the impact of a single-node failure by routing requests to other available nodes.

Redundancy through hardware–Using redundant hardware components like power supplies, fans, or hard drives can increase the reliability of distributed systems.

By implementing these strategies, distributed systems can become more reliable and resilient to failures, ensuring continuous availability of critical services and data.

Error Handling

Error handling is a critical aspect of distributed systems that cannot be overlooked. Here are some strategies for mitigating common errors that may occur in a distributed system −

Use Consensus Algorithms – To handle errors related to data consistency, consensus algorithms such as Paxos and Raft can be used to ensure that all nodes agree on the state of the data.

Implement Fault Tolerance mechanisms – Distributed systems can fail at any point in time, so it’s important to develop fault-tolerant mechanisms such as replication and redundancy to mitigate risk.

Effective Error Detection – The use of monitoring tools like Nagios or Zabbix can detect and alert system administrators when an error occurs so they can take corrective action.

Robust Error Recovery Mechanisms – In cases where an error occurs despite your best efforts to avoid it, it’s essential to have robust error recovery mechanisms that help restore normal operation swiftly, minimizing downtime.

By implementing these strategies, organizations can minimize the risks associated with distributed computing and realize the maximum benefits from this technology.


However, these limitations can be mitigated through strategies like load balancing, encryption and authentication techniques along with redundancy/fault tolerance measures that can help in ensuring error-free operation while handling any technical issues that may arise.

Bu Prof Wins Nobel Prize In Chemistry

BU Prof Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry MED’s Shimomura discovered what makes jellyfish glow

Osamu Shimomura was one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry. Photo courtesy of the Marine Biological Laboratory

It took more than 30 years for Osamu Shimomura to realize that his research on jellyfish would revolutionize the world of biology and another 14 for the Nobel Prize committee to recognize his contribution. Yesterday, after learning that his discovery of luminescent proteins in jellyfish had won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, he told reporters what he learned from the experience.

“If you find an interesting subject, go study it,” he says. “Don’t stop. There is difficulty in any research — don’t give up until you overcome that.”

Shimomura, a School of Medicine adjunct professor of physiology and a senior scientist emeritus at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., was one of three winners of this year’s chemistry prize. The other winners were Martin Chalfie of Columbia University and Roger Y. Tsien of the University of California, San Diego, both recognized for pioneering cellular research techniques that use the proteins Shimomura identified. The three will share the $1.4 million prize, which is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Shimomura is credited with the discovery of green fluorescent protein, or GFP, which he observed in 1962 in the jellyfish Aequorea victoria, found off the west coast of North America. James Head, a MED professor of physiology and biophysics, recalls Shimomura’s stories of collecting the jellyfish — Shimomura began his research with 10,000 specimens — in Washington state.

“He and his wife used to spend summers at Friday Harbor and catch bucket after bucket of jellyfish,” says Head, who collaborated with Shimomura on research into the behaviors and uses of aequorin, another fluorescent protein. “In those early days, he would purify the protein directly from the jellyfish, getting small amounts of protein from bucketfuls.”

But although Shimomura pursued his studies of GFP for years, he said yesterday that he didn’t realize the potential applications of his work until 1994, when Chalfie’s research emerged. In an organism, GFP can be fused to proteins of interest to scientists, with minor effects on the organism’s behavior. Researchers can then observe the locations and movements of the studied proteins by monitoring the GFP, which remains fluorescent.

“This protein has become one of the most important tools used in contemporary bioscience,” according to yesterday’s announcement of the prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread.”

“These discoveries were seminal and decades ahead of their time,” says Gary Borisy, director and chief executive officer of the Marine Biological Laboratory. “They really have ushered in a revolution in cell biology.”

Since then, newer techniques have emerged, such as Tsien’s research into GFP mutations that create fluorescence in various colors, which allows researchers to track different cellular processes in one organism.

Shimomura, who earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Nagoya University in 1960 and began studying bioluminescence there before coming to America and joining a research team at Princeton University, says he never expected his work to change the world of cell biology.

“My subject was just discovery of a product,” he says. “I’m surprised. And I’m happy.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at [email protected].

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Urban Enables Phd Students To Study Health Of People, Earth

BU’s URBAN Program Enables PhD Students to Study People’s Health, and the Earth’s, through a Unique Marriage of Disciplines

Paige Brochu (SPH’18,’22) gathered data to map a proposed urban forest for Providence, R.I. Portrait by Jackie Ricciardi. Photo of Providence, R.I. by Denis Tangney Jr./iStock

Earth & Environment

BU’s URBAN Enables PhD Students to Study People’s Health and the Earth’s Program offers a unique marriage of disciplines

That tree-planting, as American as Johnny Appleseed, has downsides is probably a news flash to most. But PhD student Paige Brochu (SPH’18,’22) learned it over the summer during an internship that her BU professors say blends two sciences, uniquely, in American higher ed. One is environmental health, the study of environment’s effects on human health, which is the subject of her doctoral work; the other is biogeoscience, the study of interactions between life processes and geological ones, including how land cover and rising mercury affect air and water.

URBAN is open to BU PhD students studying biogeoscience, environmental health, and statistics. The program plans to educate 60 PhD students over its life (five years guaranteed, with a sixth likely), courtesy of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This summer’s interns were involved in a range of projects, including planting trees in Arlington, Mass., and tracking wildlife health in the Adirondacks. The goal of the program is to prepare doctoral students for careers in academia, government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector by combining broad training across science along with management, policy, communication, and governance.

Tara Miller gathered data on wildlife health this summer as an intern in the Adirondacks. Portrait by Jackie Ricciardi. Photo of the Adirondack mountains by Robert Cicchetti/iStock

“I think it’s insane why other schools aren’t doing this,” Brochu says. “Biogeosciences and environmental health—we’re trying to answer a lot of the same problems.” Jonathan Levy, a School of Public Health professor of environmental health, summarizes the overlap: biogeoscientists are “trying to understand how people affect the environment,” while “we want to understand how the environment affects people.”

Levy is one of three URBAN faculty directors, overseeing the coursework and internships. The latter, which this year received financial support from the Office of the Provost, equips students for tackling urban environmental problems such as “air pollution, heat island effects, cities that are warmer, planting more trees,” says another codirector, 2024 Metcalf Award winner Pamela Templer, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of biology and head of BU’s Biogeoscience Program.

You might think the real-world application of saving the planet would be universally embraced by scientists. It’s not. Levy says that even in his eminently solutions-oriented field of public health, “if you say, ‘I’m doing applied research’…sometimes that’s viewed in a pejorative way, like you’re not doing serious science.” URBAN’s rebuttal is that “you can do cutting-edge, novel, important science as a student…and you can do work that matters and makes a difference.” 

URBAN student Lucila Bloemendaal’s childhood pointed her to her policy interest.

“I grew up in New Orleans and Houston, and we’ve been hit by floods and hurricanes there” that scientists believe climate change has worsened, says Bloemendaal (GRS’23), who is working on a PhD in earth and environment.

Lucila Bloemendaal analyzed soil and water contamination data for commercial sites. Portrait by Jackie Ricciardi. Photo of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by NASA

In her summer internship, she analyzed soil and water contamination data from commercial sites owned by clients of consulting firm Environmental Resources Management. The work involved “delving more into the environmental health side of things. These contaminants affect human health,” says biogeoscientist Bloemendaal. She’s grateful for URBAN’s environmental health aspect “because it’s all connected. We cannot ignore humans or the environment when looking at physical systems, and vice versa…. I want to help cities adapt and work with emerging issues that will become increasingly worse with climate change, such as flooding from sea level rise.”

URBAN also exposes its students to communicating science to nonscientists in the public and in the internship-sponsoring organizations. Other BU programs and universities teach this, but URBAN leans in on it. “With the traditional science degree, which is still the majority of science students—they may get a three-hour seminar on science communication. This is taking it truly to another level,” says Lucy Hutyra, a CAS associate professor of earth and environment and URBAN’s third codirector.

What BU and everyone else didn’t have was a program marrying that discipline with environmental health. Templer says that before collaborating on URBAN with Levy, she “didn’t interact with any of these folks over there on the Medical Campus, and now we’re all connecting.”

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How Wired Security Camera Systems Work

A wired security camera system represents a significant investment of time, money and effort. However, if you have a large property to secure that needs many cameras for proper coverage, it’s the best long-term option. 

Getting started with a wired security camera system can seem daunting, but once you know how wired security camera systems work, it will all make perfect sense.

Table of Contents

The Two Types of Wired Security Camera Systems

The first order of business is to cover the two main types of wires security camera systems. 

The traditional wired camera system uses analogue coaxial cables and offers a relatively lower quality image. More modern systems use cameras that transmit data digitally over Ethernet cabling.

Both types of camera receive power over their respective cable types, so you don’t need to worry about providing power at the point of installation.

Typical Components in a Wired Security Camera System

Whichever type of wired security camera system you choose, the basic components are the same:

The actual cameras and their mountings.

The cables that run from the individual cameras.

A hub device that connects all the cameras.

A recording system, often integrated into the hub device.

A hard drive to store recordings.

A monitor to view the live feed from the camera system.

Sometimes, a computer to manage and control the system is required.

While most wired camera security systems have these components, the individual capabilities of each component can vary significantly. For example, the hub device might have the ability to connect to the internet or it may just be a simple video switcher.

A Closer Look at Wired Cameras

The cameras themselves can vary. Most wired security camera starter kits will give you a few identical cameras, but it’s important to match the different types of camera to the environments they’ll be expected to operate in.

For example, if you’re going to use a camera outdoors, you should certainly look for a model that’s been designed to work in rain, sleet, snow and other environmental hazards.

The same goes for low light environments. In those cases you want cameras that can see well when there’s not much light. Some cameras are sold as having “night vision”, which usually means that they are sensitive to infrared light.

Cameras can have different fields of view and focal lengths. So you also need to keep that in mind when choosing which cameras to use for your various surveillance spots.

Wired Security Camera Installation Overview

So what does it take to install a wired security camera system? It can be pretty complicated, but the basic work involved includes:

Mounting the cameras in their correct locations. Usually by drilling holes and then screwing the mount into place.

Drilling holes through which to route cabling. This can be a challenge because you may have to drill through a wide variety of materials.

Pulling and routing cable between the cameras and hub device.

Attaching the connectors for each respective type of cable.

Connecting the cameras to the hub device.

Connecting the hub device to a monitor.

Installing a hard drive in the hub device or attaching the video output to a computer with a capture card.

While mounting the cameras and setting up the video receiver hub, video recorder, computer and monitor are all relatively easy, it’s the cabling that offers a real challenge.

Attaching the connectors at the ends of the routed cable can be particularly tricky. Coaxial cables aren’t that hard to connect, although you need to take care with insulation and waterproofing where appropriate. Ethernet cables require a special crimping tool and knowledge of what the correct wiring order is according to a wiring diagram. 

You can of course purchase lengths of cable with connectors already attached, but this can mean having excess cables or ones that are too short. If you pay to have cables made to length, make sure your measurements are accurate!

The Pros and Cons of Wired Cameras

The biggest con for a wired camera security system is undoubtedly how much of a pain it is to install it. Once you have it installed, you’ll find it’s the most reliable and foolproof solution. 

Since the cameras all draw power from the video receiver, it’s simple to keep the system running in the event of a power outage, especially a deliberate one. All you have to do is attach the main system to a suitable uninterruptible power supply.

Wired camera systems can also be a nuisance when something goes wrong with the cabling. If a mischievous rat decides to nibble through one of your cables, it can be hard to find the break or to access it for a repair.

The Pros and Cons of Wireless Cameras

Which brings us to the first downside of a wireless camera: power. Each camera needs to be plugged into an outlet. Which means you either have to limit your camera placement to where power is available or do additional wiring, which rather defeats the point. Battery-powered wireless cameras are also an option, but as you can imagine this brings a new set of issues to the table.

Another limitation of wireless cameras is that you can’t have too many of them running at the same time. Not only because of WiFi congestion, but because the apps that operate them generally only support around four cameras at the same time. That’s not a big deal for apartments or small homes, but anyone with bigger spaces to cover is out of luck.

These cameras can also suffer from the same sorts of interference as any other WiFi device. Unless you connect them to a router that has no internet connection, they always have the risk of being hacked.

Who are Wired Systems For?

Wired camera systems are best for people with larger budgets. Especially budgets that include professional installation. If you want a solid surveillance system with many cameras, robust recording and the option to go off-grid, wired is the way to go.

Wireless cameras are best for small dwellings where you want to spend as little as possible, have an easy installation process or perhaps in situations where you aren’t allowed to drill extensively. The choice is ultimately up to you!

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