29
Jul
2013

By Kevin Jiang, University of Chicago Medicine

Just 12 molecules of water cause the long post-activation recovery period required by potassium ion channels before they can function again. Using molecular simulations that modeled a potassium channel and its immediate cellular environment, atom for atom, University of Chicago scientists have revealed this new mechanism in the function of a nearly universal biological structure, with implications ranging from fundamental biology to the design of pharmaceuticals. Their findings were published online July 28 in Nature.

"Our research clarifies the nature of this previously mysterious inactivation state. This gives us better understanding of fundamental biology and should improve the rational design of drugs, which often target the inactivated state of channels" said Benoît Roux, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Chicago and senior fellow at the Computation Institute.

Potassium channels, present in the cells of virtually living organisms, are core components in bioelectricity generation and cellular communication. Required for functions such as neural firing and muscle contraction, they serve as common targets in pharmaceutical development.

23
Jul
2013

Learning a subject well means moving beyond the recitation of facts to a deeper knowledge that can be applied to new problems. Designing computers that can transcend rote calculations to more nuanced understanding has challenged scientists for years. Only in the past decade have researchers’ flexible, evolving algorithms—known as machine learning—matured from theory to everyday practice, underlying search and language-translation websites and the automated trading strategies used by Wall Street firms.

These applications only hint at machine learning’s potential to affect daily life, according to John Lafferty, the Louis Block Professor in Statistics and Computer Science. With his two appointments, Lafferty bridges these disciplines to develop theories and methods that expand the horizon of machine learning to make predictions and extract meaning from data.

“Computer science is becoming more focused on data rather than computation, and modern statistics requires more computational sophistication to work with large data sets,” Lafferty says. “Machine learning draws on and pushes forward both of these disciplines.”

12
Jul
2013

CHINA'S LATEST SUPERCOMPUTER VICTORY

China's Milky Way 2 supercomputer was recently declared the fastest supercomputer in the world by industry scorekeeper Top500, the latest move in the increasingly international race for high performance computing supremacy. Late last month, CI Senior Fellow Rick Stevens appeared on Science Friday, alongside Top 500 editor Horst Simon, to talk about why that competition matters, and what the global push for faster computation will do for medicine, engineering and other sciences.

"These top supercomputers are like time machines," Stevens said. "They give us access to a capability that won't be broadly available for five to ten years. So whoever has the time machine is able to do experiments, able to see into the future deeper and more clearly than those that don't have such machines."

10
Jul
2013

Will the cities of tomorrow be built on a foundation of data and computation? Among the CI-related events at the 2013 University of Chicago Alumni Weekend was a panel discussing the growing role of data-driven urban policy, featuring Urban Center for Computation and Data director Charlie Catlett, Dean of the Harris School of Public Policy Colm O’Muircheartaigh and Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor Stephen W. Raudenbush.

In his remarks, Catlett talks about the current window of opportunity for studying cities, produced by the dramatic expansion from narrow, outdated data snapshots to constantly updated streams of open data available to researchers and the public.

03
Jul
2013

Even the world's fastest supercomputers need some time to prep themselves to join society. After eight months of construction and nearly a year of early research projects testing out its capabilities, the 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q system finally made its official public bow this Monday in a dedication ceremony at the suburban Argonne campus. At the event, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said that the current fifth-fastest supercomputer in the world will allow Argonne and the United States as a whole to continue pushing the boundaries of science and reaping the benefits of research.

"Mira ensures the lab remains a linchpin of scientific research, enabling researchers to tackle extremely complex challenges ranging from improving combustion efficiency in car engines to modeling the progression of deadly diseases in the human body," Durbin said. "High-performance computing is crucial to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness, saving time, money and energy, boosting our national security and strengthening our economy.  If the United States is to remain a leader in the 21st century, we need to continue investing in the science and innovation that will address our growing energy and environmental demands while building the industries of the future."

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02
Jul
2013

Last week's Techweek Chicago event had all the trappings of your typical tech conference. Sprawled out over a floor of the city's massive Merchandise Mart was a maze of exhibitor booths luring attendees to learn about their new dating service or augmented reality app with tchotchkes and loud music. Three stages offered a full slate of talks and panels about the future of the internet, smartphones and video games, tips for making content go viral and pageant-style battles of aspiring startups. Against this noisy backdrop of buzzwords and brands, the public announcement of the Data Science for Social Good fellowship struck a different note.