Protein-Folding!

If you're very attentive, you noticed last week that I obliquely referenced our participation in a local protein modeling competition. This is an annual affair at Stony Brook University, somewhat aligned with science olympiad, and closely aligned to the Milwaukee School of Engineering. During the competition, students submit a pre-built physical model of a target protein, and then spend a period of time on-site at the University building another, smaller model, and taking an exam on protein structure, and the specific roles played by the target molecule.

This is the seventh year that Stony Brook has run the event. During year one, our team took second place, but this year was our first time back to the event since the second year. Every year I ask AP Biology if there is enough interest for us to field a team of three students, but I just haven't gotten an interest since our last appearance. I really enjoy the event, as it requires students to interact with a 3D computer model of a protein in a very in-depth manner, along with having them really dive in to one particular protein. This year, the target protein was RAS (specifically H-RAS), and our team decided to focus on it's use of GTP in signal transduction. Our model was pretty darn cool:

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We didn't place. Apparently we came in 13th place according to the ranking that I received today. I couldn't care less, and neither could my team members. Generally, I take the position that all I want to do with these types of extracurricular activities is to have as much fun as possible with them. I actively try to minimize the importance of the extrinsic "rewards", and maximize student engagement for the sake of learning about whatever it is that is worth learning about. It was a super fun time, and it was a great way to learn about the structure of a protein. The best part of the day was the hour that my student's were able to spend with a research scientists during lunch, talking about what is involved in a career as a PhD in molecular microbiology. For the $30 it cost us to participate in the day, that alone was worth the price of admission.