John Maddocks is a prominent expert in the multiscale modeling of DNA, the nucleic acid-based biological molecule that carries genetic information. The researcher is interested above all in the nanomechanical properties of DNA molecules. These properties determine how DNA is “packed“ and stored in our cells.
He would like to find out how the sequence of individual nucleotides - the building blocks of the genetic molecule - affects these nanomechanical properties and if and why our genetic information influences such properties in a targeted way.
Please close your eyes for a moment and think about your research project. What do you see at first?
The apparently random, but really very structured, dance of the atoms of the DNA double helix as can only be visualised in numerical simulation.
What would your research project look like if it was a piece of art?
Although not immediately related to my Einstein project, part of my research involves understanding the geometrical structure of the ideal, or tight, shapes of knots. These shapes are in turn related to the physical behaviour of DNA, although their study has certainly taken on a life of its own. Numerical simulations of ideal knot shapes lead to visualisations that might be considered to be art.
To your opinion, what are the three most meaningful inventions of mankind?
On the good side vaccines, or perhaps antibiotics, for saving so many lifes, and on the bad side (but still meaningful) atomic and hydrogen bombs and the internal combustion engine for bringing the planet as we know it perilously close to destruction.
And I personally would exclude much of the best basic science, e.g. Einsteins theories of special and general relativity, because I would say that they are not inventions, but rather discoveries or uncovering, or understanding by a human being, of things that have always been there.
With whom would you like to exchange your workplace for one day, and what would you do then?
Angela Merkel, or, because I am Scottish, perhaps Nicola Sturgeon. These are two of my favorite current politicians; I would like to understand what a day in their lives is actually like. The decisions they take have a tremendous impact on many peoples lives, but do they actually ever have much time to think deeply? How much does rationality effect the political decisions that are taken with important affects on many peoples lives?
Is there any object of obsession, which accompanies you in your daily life?
A fountain pen given to me by my son. Or metaphysically the obsession with the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in helping to generate understanding of just about everything.
Any rather unusual hobbies you might want to share?
I enjoy sailing, and I used to be rather good at it.