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Computational Biophysics: From Quantum Mechanics to Molecular Biology & Beyond

This month's speaker is one of our members visiting from Germany! Stephan has been kind enough to grant us some insight in his field and his research, so come join us at Blackrock* for a [sort of] informal talk about the fundamental of Biophysics and how this field is being utilized within the scientific community.

About the speaker:

Stephan received his BSc from Umea University (Sweden) in 2010 and his MSc in theoretical physics from the Johannes Gutenberg-University in Mainz (Germany) in 2011. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Physics at the Johannes Gutenberg-University and the Graduate school “Materials Science in Mainz” as well as a visiting research student at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Chicago. His research focus is the simulation and modeling of blood proteins in solution and at surfaces.

Synopsis of This Month's Talk:

Traditionally scientists have grouped themselves into experimentalists and theorists. However in recent years the increase in computer power and sophistication of software have given rise to a third category: computational scientists. Computational science tries to make sense of the ever increasing amount of data collected by modern experiments or predict the behavior of complex systems that can not be treated in standard theoretical frameworks. One prominent discipline relying on computers for its research is computational biophysics.

Computational biophysics applies physical theories to simulate complex biological systems. These simulations can shed light on some fundamental principles underlying life or help understand diseases on the molecular level. A formidable challenge in this research area is the wide range of time and length scales that are important. One example of this is the way our eyes work: Photons can change the structure of retinal (a form of vitamin A) in rod cells, which in turn affects the structure of the protein to which the retinal is bound. This structural change initiates a signal in the cell that is transported to the brain to process the visual input. To describe such phenomena the quantum mechanical interaction of the photon with retinal as well as the large scale motion of the protein have to be captured in the simulation. A very daunting task and the feat of developing methods that can address these questions was rewarded with this years Nobel price in chemistry.

The first part of the talk will focus on how this and others methods used by biophysicists work and how biological systems are modeled. The second part will present current research topics, such as protein folding, and their potential implications for biology and medicine.

*All members will be notified in the event of a venue change.

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