Science education

"By night all cats are gray"  - Miguel Cervantes in Don Quixote  

I've always liked Siamese cats.   Students do, too.  "Why Siamese cats wear masks" is always a favorite story in genetics class.  So, when I opened my January copy of The Science Teacher, I was thrilled to see an article on Siamese cat colors and proteins AND molecular genetics (1). In the article, the authors (Todd and Kenyon) provide some background information on the enzymatic activity of tyrosinase and compare it to the catechol oxidase that ... Read more

Imagine a simple hike in a grassy part of South America.  You hear a rattle and feel a quick stab of pain as fangs sink into your leg.  Toxins in the snake venom travel through your blood vessels and penetrate your skin.  If the snake is a South American rattlesnake, Crotalus terrific duressis, one of those toxins will be a phospholipase.  Phospholipases attack cell and mitochondrial membranes destroying nerve and muscle function.  Without quick treatment, a snakebite victim may be die or suffer permanent damage (1, 2). The phospholipase from the South American rattlesnake is called ... Read more

When my parents were young, summer made cities a scary place for young families.  My mother tells me children were often sent away from their homes to relatives in the country, if possible, and swimming pools were definitely off limits.  The disease they feared, poliomyelitis, and the havoc it wrecked were the stuff of nightmares.  Children could wake up with a headache and end up a few hours later, in an iron lung, struggling to breathe.

To have an effect, a molecule must bind to a receptor and trigger a signal.  Studying a receptor's structure can give us insights about the way this triggering process works.

Capsaicin is a fascinating molecule that puts the "pep" into peppers.  Curiously, the amount of capsaicin in a pepper is measured with a test devised in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville.  Dried peppers are dissolved in alcohol, this liquid extract is diluted in water, and trained people determine the pepper's Scoville value by "tasting" the heat.

I really wonder how these people are recruited.   I like hot ... Read more

In my last post, I wrote about insulin and interesting features of the insulin structure.  Some of the things I learned were really surprising.  For example, I was surprised to learn how similar pig and human insulin are.  I hadn't considered this before, but this made me wonder about the human insulin we used to give to one of our cats.  How do cat and human insulin compare? It turns out, that all ... Read more
Scale, proportion, and quantity belong to one of the cross cutting concepts in the next generation science standards (NGSS).  According to Volume 2 of the NGSS, "in engineering, no structure could be conceived much less constructed without the engineer's precise sense of scale."  The authors go on to note that scale and proportion are best understood using the scientific practice of working with models. When scientists and engineers work with these concepts at a molecular scale, new kinds of technologies can be created to advance our understanding of the natural world. One example is DNA ... Read more
Living in Seattle fosters a certain pessimism when it comes to large companies.  Boeing has always been a poster child for employment uncertainty, regularly hiring large numbers of people and just as regularly, laying them off.  Now, we have Microsoft and Amgen joining the club, with Microsoft layoffs impacting an estimate 1350 people in the area, and Amgen, planning to shed 660 jobs when it closes facilities in Seattle and Bothell.  Sometimes as a biotech educator, it’s hard to reconcile the prospects of knowing we're training students for well-paying, interesting biotech jobs, with the ... Read more

Previously, I wrote about students using science blogging as a way to develop an on-line portfolio and document their skills.  One friend wrote me this morning and asked if my instructions to our students were really as simple as I described. Well, no. In fact, it wasn't easy to persuade my colleagues that we should let students blog.  I had to promise them I would scrutinize every post and make sure no one got in trouble.  Luckily, our student bloggers are responsible adults.  Reading their posts has been a pleasure and there have only a couple of cases where I checked with them to make ... Read more

Why should students blog about science?  Don't they have enough to do already? Last Thursday night I participated in a panel discussion about science blogging (see the video) at ScienceOnline Seattle (#scioSEA)(video) and mentioned that we have two students blogging for us at Bio-Link.  A question I saw afterward via Twitter, from @NurhafizPiers was this:
... Read more
If all the information you had about scientific careers came from newspapers or TV, it would be easy to think that everyone who works in life sciences / biotechnology is either a Ph.D. scientist, post-doc, or graduate student.  In reality, the life sciences are more like an iceberg.  The public sees the people at the top, with advanced degrees, while the many people who have bachelors or associates degrees are hidden from view. ... Read more

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