From Cellular Footprints to Atomic Force Fields: Reflecting on BPS 2017

After BPS every year I take at least a day to review my notes from the meeting, lest I let the new and exciting biophysics slip out of my mind. After reviewing my notes I realized something extraordinary. Every single talk that I went to used or discussed an array of techniques; from experimental to computational, from long timescale dynamics to crystal structures, from cellular footprinting to atomic force fields. This variety of techniques is quite the tribute to the diversity and “do what it takes” attitude that astounds and inspires me about biophysical researchers.

Two of the most influential talks for me came at the beginning and the end of the meeting.

At the beginning of the BPS 2017 meeting, I was fortunate enough to attend Isaac Li’s talk “Mapping Cell Surface Adhesion by Rotation Tracking and Adhesion Footprinting,” … the very first talk on Saturday. The methods and results amazed me. Li was able to demonstrate the role of colocalization of proteins at the cell surface in conferring variability to cell adhesion footprints. Before this talk, I was unaware that such methods were even possible, and now I’m fascinated with how these methods could reveal molecular level details that vary from cell to cell. Additionally, I could not help but imagine how this sort of technology could be applied to understanding the surface chemistry of aerosol particles, as I have just jumped ship from a biophysics to atmospheric chemistry for my postdoc. To learn more about techniques from this laboratory, click here.

One of the last talks I went to at the BPS 2017 meeting, was Maxwell Zimmerman’s talk “Fast Forward Protein Folding.” Unlike the first talk, I was familiar with this work and have applied the described FAST algorithm to sampling conformational space in molecular dynamic simulations in my own research. Yet, in spite of the fact that I was already familiar with this work, again, I was amazed. Not because of the methods or the results, but because of how this work was communicated. Zimmerman did a remarkable job of creating visualization tools and choosing his words carefully to reach all members of his audience; a clear reminder that how scientists communicate matters. To learn more about the FAST algorithm, click here.

As with all BPS meetings, I came away inspired as well as regretful. Reading through the program this morning, I found so many talks that I wish I could travel back in time to attend. This got me thinking: What if the BPS recorded these meetings in the future? These recordings would allow those who attended to revisit the lectures and talks that inspired them and catch the sessions that they had conflicts with and unfortunately missed. Perhaps 2017 is not the time, the place, nor the political climate for such measures.  But I hope one day this will be possible!

JMS

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