Prominent pharmaceutical scientist visits Wake

On Jan. 23, the George P. Williams Lecture Hall in Olin Physics Laboratory was filled with over 100 people, both students and professors, who gathered to listen to the research findings of  Alexander MacKerrell.

Howard Graves/Old Gold & Black

MacKerrell is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore, has 193 publications in refereed journals and has 18 book chapters published. His presentation was entitled: Towards a Comprehensive Polarizable Macromolecular Force Field Based on the CHARMM Classical Drude Oscillator Model.

“It’s to understand how molecules in your body move, and to use that to understand their function and how to formulate drugs,” MacKerrell said of the general purpose of his presentation.

To foreigners of the natural sciences, MacKerrell discussed the structure of macromolecules (carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids) and the calculations that describe the energy in a system of them, also known as force fields. He then discussed the parameters used to manipulate these macromolecules.

His detailed powerpoint showed how the Chemistry at Harvard Molecular Mechanics (CHARMM) Drude Oscillator model is a molecular simulation program to analyze the charges of particles. The goal of this model is to allow scientists to go beyond scientific approximations.

University professors were glad to see many of their students in the audience.

“For my first-year students, I hope they get excited about research,” Natalie Holzwarth, professor of physics, said. “I hope the older students get some new ideas.”

Physics and chemistry majors alike were present to listen, and gave great reviews about the seminar.

“It definitely enhanced my knowledge of both physics and chemistry,” junior chemistry major Brooke Epley said.

As MacKerrell easily answered professors’ questions at the end, it was clear to students that he was a great expert in his field.

“It’s so mind-blowing to me. I’m constantly blown away,” Audrey Cyrus, a senior physics major, said. “It’s interesting to see professors pose questions to each other, because it shows how knowledgeable they are about the subject.”

The seminar was a success and presented a wide variety of information to the curious students attending. The presentation was very visual as he showed multiple diagrams, graphs and pictures of his work to allow audience members to understand the significance of his research.

As for the overall goal MacKerrell had in mind for students, he noted it’s important to, “understand basics of how molecules work and to apply that knowledge in professional work that may be related.”