In summer 2016, eighth grade science teacher Rachel Chou was selected for the National Science Foundation-funded PRIME Fellowship at Georgia Institute of Technology. She, along with approximately 15 other teachers, spent her summer conducting scientific research and then translating that research into arts-integrated engineering lesson plans.
During April and May, Ms. Chou’s students were the beneficiaries of their teacher’s summer learning, as they turned their organic chemistry knowledge into sculptures that are not only beautiful, but also personally and scientifically meaningful. Students dove into the chemical makeup of proteins, learning how the misfolding of the polypeptide bonds causes the proteins to malfunction--a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Once they fully understood the science, students created 3D models of misfolded proteins, carefully selecting paint colors to convey personal experiences and meaning.
Students also studied NMR spectroscopy, which measures the magnetic fields of carbon in proteins, allowing scientists to better understand a protein's 3D structure. Students worked with the actual frequencies of amino acids to design their own proteins and then created music based on these frequencies or designed string art based on the carbon pattern of the protein.
Over the course of the unit, students got a taste of cutting edge scientific research. They came to a fuller understanding of organic chemistry and saw how art allows for a deeper understanding of the content. Along the way, students who were “afraid” of either art or science gained new confidence.