This project involves using Excel spreadsheets to help undergraduate students develop an understanding of advanced topics in biophysics even if they do not have a calculus background. It expands upon and brings to maturation an approach that has been in development for the last six years. It is being disseminated to others for beta testing, evaluation, revision and adoption so that a wide spectrum of physical and life science undergraduate students can be exposed to important topics in biophysics that are absent from the traditional (calculus reliant) undergraduate curriculum.
Intellectual Merit: The project advances teaching of quantitative biophysical concepts to a broad audience including undergraduates with no calculus background. The project is: 1) developing teaching modules suitable for students both with and without calculus backgrounds; 2) assessing the modules as a learning tool in the actual classroom; 3) disseminating these modules to the wider teaching community; 4) strengthening student understanding of current research techniques, particularly for women and minorities; and 5) increasing interdisciplinary interactions between different disciplines. The simulations developed in the modules involve students in developing their own simulations "from scratch" using the basic assumptions of the physical model. The students then discover the predictions of the model by analyzing the simulation output. Fundamental biological processes covered include: diffusion; membrane transport and equilibrium (including the Nernst Potential and osmotic pressure); development of simple ion channel models and comparison with experiment; directed random transport processes (including sedimentation, electrophoresis and motor proteins); the fundamentals of computational molecular biology (including molecular dynamics techniques); and fluid dynamics (Poiseuille flow). All of the proposed modules are activity-based.
Broader Impacts: The immediate goal of the project is for individual modules (or small subsets) to be included in biology courses, or in mathematics and physical science courses in accordance with the second recommendation in the National Research Council's recommendations for interdisciplinary teaching (see Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists). Implementation of the modules requires only modest computing resources, namely an inexpensive PC capable of running Excel software, thus greatly facilitating adaptation by a wide range of institutions. In order to maximize the potential impact of the material being developed the work is being presented: at a variety of national conferences in areas such as biology, physics, biochemistry and physiology; in articles submitted to appropriate journals in these same disciplines; and is being considered for dissemination through the Biological ESTEEM Collection, a project of the BioQuest Curriculum Consortium, a consortium that disseminates peer-reviewed Excel simulations to biology and mathematics educators.