Molecular monsters

This week I attended a talk on crowd-sourced science platforms at my (part time) job, Interactive Scientific (iSci). David, a specialist in molecular dynamics, talked about the problems of protein folding, and about several crowd-sourcing platform where users collect and input data with machines to get better data (as opposed to just humans or just machines, which gets not such good data). There are a bunch of papers on how the machine-human data collection is great, but this is not what I am going to write about here. What was really fascinating to me was seeing images of the early molecular modelling (from the 50s + 60s), which David showed us on a tangent (a rather long and fascinating tangent!).

The model aesthetic is wonderful. They are works of art, they are a kind of squishy and reminds me of wonderful creatures wonderful art.


“Hello squishy molecule thing!”

Above is John Kendrew, who won a Nobel prize for these squishy wonderments.


One of the thoughts that came to mind resonates with some of the literature I have been looking into on phenomenology (that is: understanding the thing as a thing). And I was thinking about this in the context of weeks, months, years creating these squishy molecular beasts. I wonder how the observation and the making of the thing changes the way that you understand the thing? When you are building it with paste and glue and sawdust (which is what it looks like), or paper mache  style sculptures do you see / understand differently than simulating through running a program in a molecular modelling engine? (and is that difference something to warrant thinking about even?).