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The Many Faces of Information Software

Chemistry use for PageRankThere are plenty of stories out there about failed inventions finding a new life in a completely different niche (just check out play-doh and post-it notes if you need proof). But in this story software gets a brand new use despite its great success in a totally different area.

Aurora Clark, a professor at Washington State University is using the technology behind Google’s PageRank software to search molecules. One of Clark’s students pointed out that the interactions between molecules are very similar to links between webpages. Google uses those connections between pages as an important part of the algorithm used to rank web pages. MoleculaRnetworks, created by Associate Professor Clark, with Barbara Logan Mooney and L. Rene Corrales, ranks water molecules  by how many hydrogen bonds they’ve made and how many bonds each of the neighboring molecules has made.

This idea allows chemists to simulate molecular shapes and chemical reactions without actually having to do the experiments in a lab. Not only does that save a lot of time and money but it can also be much safer, especially for scholars like Clarke whose research centers on toxic metals like uranium, plutonium and lead. She and her associates have published an article explaining the new software in the Journal of Computational Chemistry. Ms. Clark says that even though the software currently focuses on water based molecules it could easily be modified in the future and used to help find causes of disease and to develop medications.

This is a great example of something I’ve always found fascinating about modern technology. While we still work to develop tools to shape materials and create tangible items, so much of what is being invented is software that finds new ways to analyze and organize information. Even if it’s developed for a very specific type of information, it can help us look at all sorts of things differently.

So that is my hope for today: That every bit of technology I use today will give me a slightly different perspective on the world. A big part of what we do hear at Consumer-Rankings is analyze software. But for today, I’m hoping to get some tips from the software itself about new ways to see the world.


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