September 2010

Teaching Science Through Protein Modeling

 

The Milwaukee School of Engineering Center for BioMolecular Modeling has been developing programs that introduce high school students and their teachers to the “real world of science” through protein-modeling activities. (Titled "SMART Teams: Transforming Students into Future ASBMB Members" in print version.)

 

SMART-Teams

A physical model of the p53 tumor suppressor protein, based on 1tup.pdb.

The vitality of any professional organization critically depends on its ability to introduce new members into its ranks. Both the past and current presidents of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology have articulated the goal of making ASBMB more responsive to the needs and interests of its youngest members. For most of us, the effort to attract young scientists to ASBMB involves improving the ways we teach our discipline to undergraduates or the development of better mentoring programs for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

At the Milwaukee School of Engineering Center for BioMolecular Modeling, we have been developing programs that introduce high school students and their teachers to the “real world of science” through protein-modeling activities:

• Last year, more than 2,400 high school students from around the U.S. constructed physical models of the influenza virus hemagglutinin protein using an 8-foot-long Mini-Toober (foam-covered wire) as part of the Science Olympiad Protein Modeling competition. To prepare for this event, the students learned about basic principles of protein structure and function, the Protein Data Bank and the use of the Jmol molecular visualization tool.

• In a second program called SMART Teams (Students Modeling a Research Topic), students learn to use our 3-D printing technology and are matched with a local research lab. The SMART Team visits the lab, learns about the work that is being done there and then designs and builds a physical model of a protein that is central to the work of the lab.

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