What do Green Fluorescent Protein, Black Pepper/Soap, and Magnetic Tweezers have in common?

August 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm Leave a comment

A few months ago several members of the Dunn lab (Diego, Jack, and Armen) traveled to the Life Academy of Health and Biosciences in Oakland, CA to introduce high school students to the field of biophysics.  We thought it would be most useful to incorporate hands-on demonstrations and use visuals as a stepping stone to understand some of the more complicated concepts.  This event was organized with the help of Jessica Oya, who has worked in our lab over the past 2 summers as part of the IISME (Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education) program at Stanford, and who invited us to teach her students about some things that we spend our days thinking of.

We set up 3 stations in her classroom.  1.) GFP- Green fluorescent protein.  In this station, Diego explained the concepts of fluorescence and protein structure, and used a vial of GFP under a black light to show how excitation/emission works.  He asked the students to come up with ideas how fluorescent proteins can be useful in biology to track motions of molecules, and was impressed with their creativity. 2.) Magnetic tweezers. In this station, Armen used magnetic beads and a microscope to explain concepts of magnetism and single-molecule biophysics.  By using an external magnet, the students were able to move the magnetic beads and align them in the direction of the magnetic field.  3.) Black pepper + soap in a dish.  In this station, Jack explained concepts of surface tension and hydrophobic vs. hydrophilic surfaces by placing black pepper in a dish of water, and then dropping some soap into the dish.  The visual effect is quite beautiful and serves as a wonderful way of teaching students about surface tension.

We truly enjoyed this experience, and hope that other schools in the greater Bay Area also partake in these programs.  Our plan is to scale up this event for the coming school year, and teach all the classrooms at this school.

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Dunn Lab in San Diego for Biophysical Society Annual Meeting Excellent paper about stress fibers and focal adhesions from the lab of Margaret Gardel

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