Dr. E. James Petersson's Education & Outreach Activities

     As a component of Penn Chemist Dr. E. James Petersson’s education and outreach activities, he chose to work with middle grades students because it is at this point where many casually interested students lose their interest in science as their innate qualitative curiosity is first directed into more structured, quantitative science instruction.* It is not the goal of the Petersson Group to turn every 7th grader into a Ph.D. chemist, rather to encourage them to maintain an interest in science that will enable them to obtain an understanding of science sufficient to remain economically competitive and fluent in today’s society.

     The Petersson Group hopes to encourage the students by making Biochemistry accessible through classroom exercises and activities designed to engage students and help them to develop an intuitive feel for scientific principles so that future quantitative study will be less intimidating to them. Currently, the Petersson Group has developed exercises based on fluorescence microscopy, protein folding and directed evolution.

     For example, to illustrate the principles of protein folding to children, educational “toys” were constructed that allow students to experience interactions in a visceral, tactile fashion. In addition, in order to allow the students to visualize protein structure and activity, Prof. Peterson and his students guided the students in expressing green fluorescent protein in bacteria and unfolding/refolding the protein in their classroom.

     Prior to their first visit to their partner middle school, James, graduate students Anne Wagner and Rebecca Wissner, and undergraduates Colin Fadzen and Eileen Moison, made introductory videos for the students to view. The videos were a means of introducing the classroom visitors, as well as explaining the initial work the middle schoolers would be doing in preparation for the group’s visit.

     The Petersson Group also maintains a website for follow up Questions and Answers with their partner students and the Group took time at the first session to answer questions about how each of them came to pursue a career in science. The website can be visited at http://ejpweb1.chem.upenn.edu/EJPLab_Outreach.html

* Tai, Science 2006, 312, 1143-1144. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1128690



(posted 02.20.12)