Quantum Biology Pushing Computing Technology
UIUC is home to one of a handful of National Supercomputing Centers, and the Schulten group ran a simulation of the satellite tobacco mosaic virus, which consists of abot a million atoms in total. For 100 days, they ran a simulation of a 50-nanosecond time interval to see how every atom behaves and could therefore map all the processes occuring in the virus for that time period. Now, this doesn't sound like much...only a 50-nanosecond interval. But to get better and longer intervals to study, new computing schemes are necessary and are being developed. For example, at UIUC there is work being done to advance into the next level of computing power, the petascale computer (a thousand trillion calculations per second; currently supercomputers are in the terascale range, or only a trillion calculations per second. Compare to most home PCs which are in the gigascale range, or billions). The simulations being done by such groups would take an estimated 35 years on a home PC, so this gives a good comparison to see how advanced supercomuting platforms are. The importance of such simulations is to get a handle on all behaviors of something like a virus, which are being focused on because of their relative simplicity (no simulations of, say, humans, will be possible any time soon) as well as for medical research where molecular medications may be developed (using nanotechnology) that can be effective against a particular harmful virus.