Learn how to use molecular structures in teaching at the Portland NSTA conference Nov 11-12 2016


User-friendly molecular modeling programs and collections of molecular structures give students a hands-on way to learn about molecular biology, genetics, and chemistry through exploration.  Dr. Sandra Porter will be presenting two workshops this year at the NSTA conference Portland, related to using molecular structures as a teaching tool.

Title: Learning about molecular structures with molecular models 

Learning About Molecular Structures with Molecular Models

November 11, 2016, 12:30 PM - 01:30 PM

Oregon Convention Center, D136

​Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download the presentation (pdf)

Session Type: Hands-On Workshop


Participants will learn techniques for working with user-friendly iOS-based molecular modeling programs and authentic molecular models to study key features of protein and DNA structure.


User-friendly software that displays chemical and molecular structure models makes it possible for high school and college students to learn about DNA and protein structure using the same experimentally-derived models studied by professional scientists. These computer-generated models, based on authentic data, present an exciting and reusable alternative to bits of paper and pipe cleaners. Working like scientists, with models from public databases, equips students with skills for studying biology in college and beyond. In this workshop, participants will learn how to find, download, and manipulate structure models from public databases, such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov), the PDB (http://www.rcsb.org), and additional free resources such as the structure collections at Digital World Biology (http://digitalworldbiology.com/structure-collections). Selected molecules will be used for an interactive investigation to identify the four levels of protein structure (primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary), characteristics of amino acids and their interactions, and key features in DNA and RNA.


Title: Molecular modeling as a tool for understanding cancer and other types of genetic disease 

Conference: 2016 Portland Area Conference

Abstract #: 11525

Session Type: Hands-On Workshop

November 12, 2016, 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Oregon Convention Center, E144

​Scroll down to the bottom of the page to download the presentation (pdf)

Summary:  Participants will use molecular modeling software to compare molecule structures and develop hypotheses to explain why some mutations in BRCA1 can lead to cancer.


Genetic testing has become increasingly commonplace during the past few years. Although the number of tests has risen, the public’s understanding of test results has not. Part of this problem lies in the way we teach genetics. When we leave out the biochemistry that ties a sequence to a change in the structure and function, the effect of a mutation can seem really mysterious and confusing. We have been working to identify pairs of molecular structure models that allow us to compare a normal protein with a mutant protein and see a structural change that helps explain the change in protein activity. Several examples of these types of structures exist for the BRCA1 protein. Participants in the workshop will use iOS-based molecular modeling software to compare structures and propose hypotheses to explain why the changes in these structures can lead to cancer based on the structural change. A discussion of the assessment and tools for annotating photos will be included.

What to bring:

- An iPad if you can.  If not, bring a laptop and download and install Cn3D beforehand.  Some structures will work with Cn3D, some will not. You can get Cn3D from the NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

- If you’re bringing an iPad, download and install a copy of Molecule World ($9.99 in the iTunes store) before the workshop.

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