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STLCOP Professor and Student Rethink Physics Lab

Published on 11 February 2016

Times have changed in terms of physics education. Instead of studying topics like how projectiles move, STLCOP students are programming computers and running software to study the physics of molecular dynamics. The lab activities developed by Dr. Juan Rodriguez, associate professor of physics, and Ben Spitznagel, P1 help students better understand computer programming, physics behind molecular dynamics, and how to simulate protein dynamics.

“We conducted a lot of experiments and simulations with a molecular dynamics simulation program called Abalone. For example, I was tasked many times with designing a simulation that would clearly, accurately, and repetitively show the implications of phosphorylation and environment changes on a protein's conformations. This project directly educates students, and the publication of it gives other institutions the opportunity to adapt this experiment to their curricula,” says Spitznagel.

The publication Spitznagel refers to is an article published in the most recent issue of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education (BAMBED). In addition, the research will be published in future articles as part of the 2016 Innovative Lab Series. Spitznagel is listed as the first author for his dedication and hard work on the project.

“The process of working on this project was very fun,” said Spitznagel. “There was a lot of room for creativity throughout this project because neither of us had a full understanding of how to operate Abalone when we started. We learned a lot about the program and had an enjoyable time conducting the research.”

Spitznagel never thought he would have the opportunity to participate in research during his first professional year. Luckily, Rodriguez noticed his passion for problem solving and research.

“Students interested in research should really communicate with their professors and just put themselves out there,” said Spitznagel. “You never know when an opportunity will arise and a professor will call on you.”

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