GENEVA, NY – Research into pain, protein folding, and ladybugs is being done 20 times faster at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Three years ago HWS chemistry students initiated three intriguing projects–exploring the regulation of pain in the human body, investigating the composition of proteins, and analyzing the defense system of a ladybug. This research, done by 10 HWS students, 13 HWS alums, in conjunction with area scientists, was recently expedited thanks to the addition of a Beowulf Computer Cluster.
“This is cutting-edge research that once could only be done by big research centers. The computing power available in our department with the Beowulf computer cluster now rivals many research centers,” Carol Parish, an assistant professor of chemistry says. “It also allows for research quality computing to be done on a small budget.”
The 3-D graphics that ensues in the laboratory on the second floor of the Lansing Science Hall mirrors that of a video arcade as students conduct their research and visually watch the ways in which molecules move. Here are more details on the three projects.
· The human body pain research recently began using algorithms to fold proteins created by Professor Harold Scheraga of Cornell University. This project focused on opioid proteins. These are the proteins found in the human body that regulate pain. This work has been the Honors focus of two undergraduate students, Kenneth Page, of Wyoming, N.Y., a 1999 Hobart graduate, and Rebecca Gooch, of Hamburg, N.Y., a William Smith senior. Gooch was awarded a scholarship from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, in part for this work.
· Meanwhile theoretical, three-dimensional models of desaturase proteins are being developed with Wendell Roelofs of the department of entomology at New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and Nancy Murray, assistant professor of biology at Hobart and William Smith. Desaturase proteins are responsible for making certain types of long chain fatty acids that are important in a variety of biological processes, particularly insect sex attraction. Esther Vivas, of Rego Park, N.Y., a William Smith senior, is currently making this project the focus of her Honors degree in biochemistry.
· Another group of Hobart and William Smith students are investigating the molecular flexibility of large molecular rings on a ladybug pupae that were identified by Jerrold Meinwald of Cornell University. These identified chemicals are part of the ladybug defense system.
The computers were purchased by Hobart and William Smith Colleges through a grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., which offers support to institutions for innovative chemistry projects. The computer cluster contains one master node and 16 slave nodes. Each node contains an 800 MHz Athlon processor. Further details on the configuration can be found at http://people.hws.edu/parish/beowulf.htm
The Hobart and William Smith Chemistry Department program is designed to meet the standards set by the American Chemical Society Committee on Professional Training. These national standards are oriented toward the training of chemical professionals at the bachelor level as well as preparation for graduate studies in chemistry, biochemistry, and related disciplines. HWS offers this program in context of a liberal arts environment with an integrated general curriculum.