“Nothing is more exciting than being able to ask questions about the universe and then design apparatuses and experiments to get an answer,” Christy Landes says.
In search of those answers, the Rice professor is harnessing today’s imaging technology and computational power to finally create a theoretical framework that can predict how to separate a given molecule out of a mixture. Her success would have enormous implications for both the energy industry and for drug development, where separation plays a critical role.
“A scientific go-by for separation has long been the Holy Grail of physical chemistry, but a goal that has stymied some of the best scientific minds of the past century because the tools to achieve it just weren’t there yet,” she says.
She reports that Welch funding has supported her experimental methods to quantify and measure pieces of the separation problem, including absorption/desorption and the folding and unfolding of proteins to measure how the fleeting changes in structure affect function. Dr. Landes believes she now has all the pieces in place to allow her lab to make progress on the big picture problem.
“We would not have been able to get to this point without Welch’s sustained support,” she says. “It took many years of fundamental research – a really huge effort – to set the stage. And if we succeed in creating a working predictive framework for separation, the benefits for humankind will be truly amazing.”