[by Catherine Wu]
D. E. Shaw Research (“DESRES”) is based in lower Manhattan and conducts advanced research within computational biochemistry. The company builds supercomputers (the Anton series) that are used do perform molecular dynamics simulations, which are used to conduct scientific research with a focus on computer-aided drug design. There is also work in designing and implementing novel algorithms that advance the speed and granularity of computation.
During the InnovTrip visit, the participants were joined by several DESRES researchers in a spacious conference room for a few presentations. The scientists walked us through the design process of the Anton supercomputer and discussed how Anton is advancing and revolutionizing research by demo-ing the biomolecular simulations that Anton makes possible. We were introduced to how the supercomputer is facilitating drug discovery by modeling protein interactions on the scale of 10^-15 seconds, which is orders of magnitudes faster than previous attempts and thus allows for improved accuracy. The firm is continuously improving the supercomputer design and completes a new computer about every 5 years. We then saw a copy of Anton 2 that was located in the office and learned some details about the system, including the innovative cooling system that was specifically designed for it.
My biggest takeaway from the visit is how important hardware design is to pushing drug frontiers. In the Princeton classes I took, the focus has largely been on software and this was the first time that I was really exposed to an application where hardware design is the most challenging and essential part of the project.