On Monday 7th September academics from around the UK met to discuss “Teaching the physical aspects of the molecular biosciences”. It was a day intended to stimulate general discussion whilst also allowing us to occasionally focus on the nitty gritty.
The meeting kicked off with four brief presentations covering the general challenges faced [Ehmke Pohl], using audience response devices in teaching Michaelis Menten kinetics [Alice Robson], challenges of overcoming misconceptions (of teachers as much as of students) [Stuart Ferguson] and using physical props [Jeremy Craven]. Much discussion ensued and four topics were chosen for break out groups: units; estimation; linearization vs curve fitting; when techniques are wrong. The groups later fed back the key ideas of their discussions. Amongst these were the idea that teaching of Xray, EM and NMR could be fruitfully targeted towards challenging students to spot when results were wrong so that they can appreciate the limitations.
An interesting aspect was to see what topics emerged as being seen as “physical aspects of the molecular biosciences” in undergraduate teaching. One measure of this is a (non exhaustive) list of topics touched on during the day: Kd, first and second order kinetics, thermodynamics, Michaelis Menten kinetics, fluorescence, structural biology (interpretation and methods), microscopy (especially super-resolution methods), methods for determining binding, force, work, electrostatics (including “the volt”) and membrane potentials, mental maths, logs, units, estimating, curve fitting, “predicting what should happen to the result if something changes in an equation”.