The SARS CoV-2 pandemic has been a rallying cry for the scientific community and we have witnessed an outpouring of research about the virus over the past year.  The incredible collaborative effort on the part of the scientific/medical visualization community has paralleled this trend and numerous high-quality models, images and animations have been created to help explain the biology of the virus and, in particular, the spike protein.  However, few studies (and visualizations based on them) have captured the daunting complexity of the spike’s motions as it drives infection.  In this TED-style talk I will share my team’s efforts to accurately model, simulate and visualize a continuous membrane fusion process.  Our work reveals not only how this molecular contortionist transitions from prefusion, to prehairpin and postfusion intermediates during membrane fusion, but also offers new insights about the timing of protease cleavage, the mechanism of a promising class of fusion inhibitors and why inactivated virus may prove to be a poor choice of vaccine immunogen.

Gaël McGill, PhD

Dr. Gaël McGill is faculty and Director of Molecular Visualization at the Center for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics at Harvard Medical School where his teaching and research focuses on visualization design and assessment methods in science education.  He is also founder & CEO of Digizyme, Inc. ( a firm dedicated to the visualization and communication of science.  Dr. McGill recently co-authored and served as digital director for E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth iBooks biology textbook.  He is the creator of the scientific visualization online community portal (originally, the Molecular Maya (mMaya) software toolkit and has contributed to leading Maya and ZBrush textbooks for Wiley/SYBEX Publishing.  Dr. McGill was also a board member of the Vesalius Trust and remains an advisor to several biotechnology and device companies.  After his B.A. summa cum laude in Biology, Music, and Art History from Swarthmore College, and Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals fellow, Dr. McGill completed his postdoctoral work at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute studying tumor cell apoptosis and melanoma.