The National Institute for Computational Sciences

CU-Boulder Student Receives Peter Kollman Graduate Award in High Performance Computing

As the recipient of the Peter Kollman Graduate Award, University of Colorado student Robert Elder will receive 200,000 processor hours on Kraken to support a project centered on gene therapy research.

American Chemical Society, NICS provide computing time for outstanding student

by Caitlin Elizabeth Rockett

Robert Elder, a student of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been honored as the most recent recipient of the Peter Kollman Graduate Award in High Performance Computing. Jointly sponsored by the American Chemical Society’s (ASC) Division of Computers in Chemistry and the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS), the award will allow Elder to investigate a chemistry-related project using 200,000 processor hours on the Cray XT5 “Kraken” supercomputer at NICS.

Elder was officially awarded at the ACS Fall 2011 National Meeting in Denver, CO.

The Peter Kollman Award recognizes exceptional chemistry students in the early stages of their graduate career. The award’s namesake is predominantly known for his role in the development of the AMBER (Assisted Model Building with Energy Refinement) software package.

Elder will aid his advisor Arthi Jayaraman in a computationally intensive project centered on transfection—the introduction of genes into cells, more broadly referred to as gene therapy. This emerging medical process seeks to correct defective genes responsible for disease development by replacing the mutated gene.

Elder and Jayaraman will focus on the structural and thermodynamic aspects of binding between DNA and a specific polycation, a molecule that acts as a vehicle that “drives” the healthy genes into the cells. They hope insights from their computational research will benefit their experimental collaborator Todd Emrick (University of Massachusetts Amherst) in synthesizing new, more effective polycationic agents for transfection.

“The ability to deliver genes to specific cells has several medical applications,” explained Elder. “Defects in single genes—diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia—might be cured by adding a functional copy of the defective gene.” Gene therapy could even be used to restrict the growth of a cancerous tumor.

Elder received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University in 2009.

For more information on the Peter Kollman Graduate Award in High Performance Computing, please visit the ASC COMP awards page.