Skip to main content

Jeremy Smith, Governor’s Chair for Molecular Biophysics and director of the University of Tennessee–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Center for Molecular Biophysics, discusses how powerful supercomputers really are and how he is using them to find new plant-based drugs for diseases like cancer and diabetes.



ANDREA SCHNEIBEL: Welcome to Science Minute, a research audiocast by the University of Tennessee. I’m Andrea Schneibel.

Supercomputers—how powerful are they? And what can they help us achieve?

JEREMY SMITH: About 100,000 MacBook Airs, that’s how powerful a supercomputer is. Imagine them all piled up, all working together, blinking together, to try and accomplish the same goal.

SCHNEIBEL: That is Jeremy Smith, Governor’s Chair Professor for Molecular Biophysics at the University of Tennessee and director of the Center for Molecular Biophysics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Some applications of supercomputers might surprise you.

SMITH: We want to be able to use plants and convert them into very useful chemicals such as fuels—biofuels—and do that without warming up the environment by emitting carbon.

SCHNEIBEL: Another of Smith’s projects uses supercomputers to discover new drugs and vaccines for a variety of diseases.

SMITH: Supercomputers can be used to screen potential chemicals to see if any of them would be useful as potential drugs. And for that, then, we’ve managed to successfully find drugs that act against a number of diseases, such as prostate cancer, diabetes, strep infections—and even create vaccines against cancer.

SCHNEIBEL: Thanks for listening to Science Minute! For the University of Tennessee, I’m Andrea Schneibel.

Microphone IconScience Minute is an audiocast dedicated to showcasing the work and expertise of faculty members and researchers at the University of Tennessee. Whether it is the latest news in microbiology, health sciences, or history and anthropology, UT experts will explain complex topics in 90-second episodes.

Science Minute is produced by the Office of Communications and Marketing at the University of Tennessee. New episodes are released every other Thursday.