he cartoon shown in figure i.1 features two male scientists in a genetics
laboratory. One is seated at the lab bench busy at work with his
instruments and test tubes. The other scientist is twisting his body into the
shape of a double helix. The seated scientist looks over his shoulder, chiding
the contorted one: “Very good, Michaels—you’re a Dna molecule. Now, get
back to work.1
It would be easy to laugh with the scientist at the bench who derides his
colleague’s playful contortions as distractions from more important work.
But what if the joke were on him? He thinks that he is getting his work done
hunched over at the bench. This book argues that it is perhaps the helically
wound- up scientist who is doing the important experiment. He uses his body
to reason through the molecular structure of a complex biological molecule.
It is by conducting a body experiment, an embodied twist on the well- known
thought experiment, that he figures out the specificity of molecular form.
Those resembling the curmudgeonly scientist sitting at the bench are scarce
among practitioners in the diverse disciplinary fields that converge around
the task of protein modeling. Protein modelers engage their bodies actively
in their work. They learn how to feel through molecular structures by ex-
perimenting with the forces and tensions in their own bodies. They get en-
tangled—kinesthetically and affectively—in their modeling efforts. The term
“kinesthetics” as I use it here describes the visceral sensibilities, movements,
and muscular knowledge that modelers bring to their body experiments.2 The
term “affect,” on the other hand, indexes the energetics, intensities, and emo-
tions that propagate through modelers’ efforts.3 Both the kinesthetic and the
affective dimensions of modelers’ practices converge in the familiar realm of
what we tend to call “feeling.”4
Rendering Life Molecular documents the multifarious modes of body- work
and play that are integral to protein modelers’ research and teaching practices.
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