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May 29 , 2011

Rendering Life Molecular

Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter
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Overview

What are living bodies made of? Protein modelers tell us that our cells are composed of millions of proteins, intricately folded molecular structures on the scale of nanoparticles. Proteins twist and wriggle as they carry out the activities that keep cells alive. Figuring out how to make these unruly substances visible, tangible, and workable is a challenging task, one that is not readily automated, even by the fastest computers. Natasha Myers explores what protein modelers must do to render three-dimensional, atomic-resolution models of these lively materials. Rendering Life Molecular shows that protein models are not just informed by scientific data: model building entangles a modeler’s entire sensorium, and modelers must learn to feel their way through the data in order to interpret molecular forms. Myers takes us into protein modeling laboratories and classrooms, tracking how gesture, affect, imagination, and intuition shape practices of objectivity. Asking, ‘What is life becoming in modelers' hands?’ she tunes into the ways they animate molecules through their moving bodies and other media. In the process she amplifies an otherwise muted liveliness inflecting mechanistic accounts of the stuff of life.
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