Edinburgh Data Visualization: Knowledge Synthesis With Sci Vis (How SARS CoV-2 Spike Drives Membrane Fusion)

Dr Gaël McGill

Scientific visualization combines the complexities of science, the technical rigor of programming, the challenges of effective teaching and the creative possibilities of art and design. It is typically used in one of two ways:
1) to clarify and communicate and
2) to help explore and analyze large data sets.
However, one of the most powerful yet little-recognized benefits of visualization is the way it synthesizes our knowledge and externalizes our mental models. In fact, many designers and animators report anecdotally that scientists with whom they collaborate gain new insights into their science as a result of creating visualizations: ‘visual thinking’ triggered during this process sheds new light on otherwise familiar data. How exactly does visualization trigger such cognitive benefits and how can it be leveraged to improve research and communication? This presentation will offer insights into these questions while drawing on a broad range of examples selected from our portfolio of work across the life sciences. In particular, I will share our efforts to create a continuous dynamic model of how the SARS CoV-2 spike protein induces membrane fusion as it transitions from prefusion, to prehairpin and postfusion conformational intermediates. Our modeling and simulation work offers insights into the mechanism of action of a recently published class of SARS CoV-2 fusion inhibitors delivered by nasal spray.

Gaël is faculty and Director of Molecular Visualization at the Center for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics at Harvard Medical School, where his teaching and research focuses on visualization design and assessment methods in science education. He is also founder & CEO of Digizyme, Inc. (www.digizyme.com) a firm dedicated to the visualization and communication of science. [Showreel: www.digizyme.com ]
Dr. McGill recently co-authored and served as digital director for E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth iBooks biology textbook. He is the creator of the scientific visualization online community portal Clarafi.com (originally molecularmovies.com), the Molecular Maya (mMaya) software toolkit and has contributed to leading Maya and ZBrush textbooks for Wiley/SYBEX Publishing. Dr. McGill was also a board member of the Vesalius Trust and remains an advisor to several biotechnology and device companies.
After his B.A. summa cum laude in Biology, Music, and Art History from Swarthmore College, and Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals fellow, Dr. McGill completed his postdoctoral work at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute studying tumor cell apoptosis and melanoma.

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