Nov. 21, 2011
|Morningside professor Andy Thomas, left, and chemistry student Lyra Christianson look at a computer simulation of a bacterial membrane.
A Morningside College student and a professor have been awarded access to one of the world’s fastest supercomputers for a research project they are conducting.
Andy Thomas, visiting assistant professor of chemistry, and Lyra Christianson, a senior from St. Paul, Minn., will use the Kraken supercomputer housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to study lipid molecules in bacterial membranes.
Thomas and Christianson wrote a proposal to the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) project and requested time on one of the 16 supercomputers in the XSEDE system. With support from the National Science Foundation, XSEDE makes its resources available at no cost to qualifying researchers, scientists and engineers.
According to Thomas, the Kraken supercomputer will allow them to perform simulations of a series of bacterial membranes with different compositions and study how various lipid molecules affect the membrane structure.
“Simulations of large biomolecule complexes such as membranes require substantial computing power,” Thomas said. “That’s why access to time on a supercomputer is essential for Lyra and me to complete our research project.”
The Kraken supercomputer can perform more than 1,000 trillion calculations per second, which is approximately one million times faster than a typical consumer computer.
Internet connections will allow Thomas and Christianson to run their research simulations on the Kraken supercomputer without leaving the Morningside campus.
Thomas and Christianson are specifically studying lipid molecules that do not appear in human cells. Their research results may provide medical scientists with data that could be useful in developing drugs, such as antibiotics, that target lipid molecules and the membrane structure in harmful bacteria.
Thomas joined the Morningside faculty this fall after serving as a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at the University of Iowa. He has a doctorate from the University of Iowa.
Christianson expects to graduate from Morningside in May 2012 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre.