Google’s search engine algorithm, known as PageRank, is being used to understand the natural world. Washington State University Associate Professor Aurora Clark used the PageRank algorithm as a model to map water molecules which she dubbed “molecular networks.” Now that may not sound like a big thing, but if one thinks about it, water is involved in all aspects of life, from good health to generation of nuclear power, so mapping water molecules is a research that can impact everyday living.
The approach uses PageRank in computational chemistry, one of the cutting edge fields of science by using computer technology to solve different scientific problems with mathematics, programming and computer simulations to make a virtual laboratory where scientists can do all sorts of experiments without having to undertake them, often a costly proposition, in the real world
An imitation of the natural world
So how does it work? Basically, what Page Rank measures the importance of a particular webpage based on its links, authority and many other factors that Google keeps to itself. The more authority a website has, the higher the site is rated, and is shown ahead of other websites when specific keywords that it is relevant to is searched.
This method is applied in molecular search by determining the bond of a water molecule to other water molecules (think webpage to another webpage), the more bonds it has, the easier scientists can predict how the water molecules will interact with each other in a chemical reaction.
By giving a more accurate model of how the water bonds will react and how water affects chemical reactions in a macro and micro scale, scientists lessen the need for actual laboratory testing just to see the end result of a certain reaction. The focus of the research, though, is the analysis of pollutants, particularly radioactive waste. By having an idea of how chemical reactions in water will occur, Professor Clark says that they will be able to use computational chemistry to simulate how to make or force certain reactions without the danger of actually playing around with radioactive material.
For, if a certain body of water is radioactive, they no longer need to expend resources on preliminary testing or various hypotheses. They can simulate tests after acquiring a sample and to determine which process or cleanup agent would work best. They can the data they acquired from moleculaRnetworks and see how the water is bonded not just to other water molecules but also how it is organized around the radioactive material as well as how it affects chemical reactions. By figuring this out, they can then pinpoint the most effective testing processes and then undertake them, thus cutting down the cost and length of the study. This can lead them to design cleanup agents and methods to remove the contaminant. This saves valuable time and money, not to mention the added bonus of safety.
Widespread effects of understanding water reactions
How does it affect present living? Professor Clark says that it will help understand virtually all reactions involving water, and will help in drug design, the analysis of diseases and radioactive waste research among others.
This would mean better medicines and progress in finding cures for various ailments and a better understanding of biological processes and issues which would lead to an improved understanding of the human physiology, not to mention better health care programs and a greener environment free from radioactive pollutants that cause a myriad of diseases. Water is involved in every aspect of our existence and knowing more about it can help us by improving everyone’s way of life.
This is a video about a Washington State University chemist applies Google software to the molecular world.