Portrait of Michael Rossmann

Michael Rossmann

Michael Rossmann, Purdue's Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, is a pioneer in using high-performance computing in concert with X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to deduce the structure of viruses and their component protein molecules. He began using computers for crystallography while a post-doc in Minnesota where he had to program one of the first commercial computers by writing code in octal. In the 1970s, he used computers to map the atomic structure of plant viruses and in 1979 he and collaborators constructed a 3-D model of the crop-damaging southern bean mosaic virus. Rossmann recalls it as a back-breaking endeavor involving some 50 error-prone magnetic tapes recording the electron density of this virus. He gained worldwide attention in 1985 by determining the structure of human rhinovirus serotype14, HRV-14, one of about 100 known cold virus strains. He is examining viruses ranging from those that cause the common cold; to flaviviruses, such as West Nile and Yellow Fever viruses; to parvovirus in cats and dogs; and to Mimivirus that approaches the size of small bacteria—from things that make us feel bad to things that can kill us or have major economic consequences. The knowledge gained could help lead to improved treatments against dangerous viruses and a better understanding of the body's immune system.

Professor Rossmann was a friend, colleague and next door neighbor of the late Saul Rosen, the Purdue research computing pioneer. Grants awarded Rossmann by the National Science Foundation and other funders helped pay for early large-scale systems for research at Purdue from the 1960s to the 1980s, including Control Data Systems 6000 series and CYBER 205 supercomputers. ITaP has operated a high-performance computing cluster for Rossmann's lab and he used the Hamlet and Lear clusters before becoming one of the investors in the Steele community cluster in 2008. Rossmann began his teaching and research at Purdue in 1964. He was a member of the National Science Board from 2000 to 2006 after being nominated by President Clinton. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the British Royal Society.

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