Adventures in Macromolecular Structure and Chemistry (Lead PI: Craig Mello)

Adventures in Macromolecular Structure and Chemistry

Students Reached:  21 students from the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades
Lead Researcher: Dr. Craig Mello, the University of Massachusetts at Worcester
Lead Teacher: Mr. Javier Anduaga, BASIS Mesa, Arizona

Dr. Craig Mello worked with Mr. Javier Anduaga, chemistry teacher from the public charter school BASIS Mesa, to develop engaging, hands-on activities and research projects to teach students the fundamentals of macromolecular structure and chemistry. In this program, Mr. Anduaga taught two one-hour sessions after school each week to motivated fifth, seventh, and ninth graders who had expressed interest in science. These sessions ran for a total of seven weeks, and students learned about the structures and functions of nucleic acids, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. The emphasis of these classes was on the importance of the underlying hydrogen bonds, hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions, and the major functional groups within these macromolecules. While learning about each of these macromolecules, students were able to build physical molecular models to aid their understanding. They also used the game Foldit to gain a better appreciation of protein structure.

Dr. Craig Mello participated in a series of videoconferences with the students to share how these fundamental concepts affect and drive his own research, with a focus on their work in cellular physiology and the effects of varying macromolecular stability.

Students were also taught about the applications of this basic biochemical knowledge within a variety of scientific fields. The students each chose a macromolecule to study, and they wrote reports covering the main functional groups of their macromolecule and its applications in a field of their choice. Students focused on the applications of this basic structural knowledge in such diverse areas as astrophysics, botany, paleontology, and medicine.

13 of 21 students finished the entire seven weeks of this program, and 4 of the participants were from groups underrepresented in STEM. This program succeeded in teaching students to interpret their findings and apply what they learned to their chemistry and biology course material, and this was shown by the depth of their test answers they gave in these courses after completing this program.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase kits and molecular models necessary for the in-class model building.


Dr. Craig Mello and Mr. Anduaga