Computer science professor studies proteins

Kevin Molloy

By Caleb Ayers

Computer Science Professor, Kevin Molloy, enjoys making cheese, playing his guitar, and running triathlons. But what sets him apart from others is his research in computational protein design.

Molloy, who recently joined JMU’s Computer Science Department, works within the intersection of computer science, robotics, and structural biology—the study of macromolecules and proteins.  He develops and tests algorithms that can deepen our understanding of proteins. His overarching research goal is to investigate the relationship between a protein’s sequence and its structure, and how this relationship can further our understanding and treatment of disease.

Molloy initially developed an interest in computers as a practical outlet for his passion for mathematics. While at George Mason University (GMU), he discovered his aptitude for programming and decided to pursue a degree in computer science. To help him pay for school, he worked with IBM mainframe computers as a database administrator.

At the time, the IT industry was transitioning from mainframe to Unix operating systems. As Molloy gained experience with mainframes at work, he also learned about Unix at school. The dual exposure armed him with a rare and desirable skill-set, one that he capitalized after graduation. In 1997, he and his wife, Elizabeth, founded Molloy Software Associates and, with their Canadian partner, International Software Products, developed a software product that converted mainframe information into Oracle databases operating on a UNIX platform. Their conversion software quickly became an industry-leading tool adopted by several Fortune 500 companies.

Building upon this success, Molloy Software Associates expanded their work into areas such as data warehousing and data quality analysis. Yet, Molloy had a strong desire to transition into research. After twelve years with Molloy Software Associates, he returned to his alma mater for graduate school.

Molloy was captivated by robotics as a computer science research field, but he knew that was a very broad topic. He began exploring the potential to combine robotics and computer science with structural biology and became excited about the potential impact he could make in the health field. “Health impacts all of us,” he said. “So things you can use your computer for to help advance health and our understandings of how our bodies work is a great goal.”

After completing both his Master’s and his Ph.D. at George Mason, Molloy and his family moved to southern France, where he worked with the Center for National Scientific Research (CNRS)—an organization equivalent to the National Science Foundation here in the United States. His work at CNRS corresponded with his research goals, using robotics algorithms to model proteins. His team strung model atoms together like a long robotic arm, which they used to model and understand how the atoms move.  These studies investigated how changes in the protein’s sequence impacted its motions, and therefore, its ability to perform its function.  He continues to collaborate with some of these scientists.

In 2016, Molloy returned to his alma mater, this time as an adjunct professor and visiting researcher.  He enjoys teaching others about computers—whether that be training and mentoring while working with Molloy Software Associates or working as a professor at GMU. Now, he is excited to be part of JMU, which provides him with a unique environment to not only teach, but also learn with his students. “It’s a bidirectional exchange, where you are enriching someone else’s mind, and in a way, they’re also teaching you different aspects of things you didn’t completely understand or appreciate,” he said.

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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