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Jun 24, 2022

Supercomputer Helps Understand the Physics of Thought

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, chemistry, supercomputing

Decades of research has led to a thorough understanding of the main protein players and the broad strokes of membrane fusion for synaptic transmission. Bernard Katz was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine in part for demonstrating that chemical synaptic transmission consists of a neurotransmitter-filled synaptic vesicle fusing with the plasma membrane at nerve endings and releasing its content into the opposing postsynaptic cell. And Rizo-Rey’s longtime collaborator, Thomas Südhof, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2013 for his studies of the machinery that mediates neurotransmitter release (many with Rizo-Rey as a co-author).

But Rizo-Rey says his goal is to understand the specific physics of how the activation process of thought occurs in much more detail. “If I can understand that, winning the Nobel Prize would just be a small reward,” he said.

Recently, using the Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), one of the most powerful systems in the world, Rizo-Rey has been exploring this process, creating a multi-million atom model of the proteins, the membranes, and their environment, and setting them in motion virtually to see what happens, a process known as molecular dynamics.

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