The beta-sheet environment of João Rodrigues


João Rodrigues is a postdoc at the Department of Chemistry. 

João Rodrigues is a postdoc at the Department of Chemistry. 

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a postdoctoral researcher in the Computational Structural Biology group of the Department of Chemistry. We are part of the larger NMR research group, which studies the structure of biological molecules, such as proteins, and their role in our cells, both in health and disease. In our group, we use computers to model and predict the three-dimensional structure of these molecules. Our models are often the only source of structural information for a particular protein of interest. They hint at what a protein may look like, at how it moves in conditions similar to those in the cell, and how it interacts with other proteins to perform certain functions. Although it is mainly theoretical, our work helps other scientists plan their research or interpret their results.

Where is this workplace?

We are located, or contained as we usually joke, in the Bloembergen building, in between the Kruytgebouw and Educatorium, towards the Leuvenlaan. It houses not only us, but the entire NMR research group. It also hosts one of the largest computer clusters on campus, with over 1900 cores, which we use to do our calculations.

What is special about this workplace or about your research?

I guess the most special feature of our workplace is the building itself, which apparently was designed to resemble a beta-sheet, a structural element of proteins. Our offices all have large windows and we share them with colleagues from other research groups, which makes for a very nice and friendly work environment. It's like a big family sometimes. We are also a step away from the Botanical Gardens, so when the weather is good, which unfortunately is not very often, we can just hop over.

As for my research, I find it very interesting because it's at the interface of several fields: chemistry, computer science, biology. This means I get to apply my knowledge to many different projects with different motivations and as such I keep learning about things I would otherwise miss out on. Further, and I think this is a very under-appreciated feature of my research, since I work with computers, designing an "experiment" costs only (my) time. This freedom to think and test whatever ideas I want keeps me quite motivated to continue doing science.

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