Monday, December 26, 2016

An introduction to bioinspiration

This is the blog of my NS202 Natural Sciences course at Boston University's College of General Studies. We are taking a new approach to studying cellular and molecular evolution, with a focus on modeling nano systems. We will make our models by hand and at the same time, explore our learning process as we derive inspiration from the workings of cells, molecules, and biological systems. Each week students will submit posts to the blog, which will provide a platform for us to communicate our questions, impressions, and discoveries. 

In this course, students will go beyond traditional "textbook" biological models to explore the evolution of cellular and molecular phenomena at the nano level. By building models, literally with their own hands, students will be introduced to concepts and consequent functionalities that arise through evolutionary constraints such as symmetry/asymmetry, uneven planar surfaces, and junctures of interaction. We will apply these nominally "biological" concepts to the arts, society, finance, and other topics related to students' majors. The course is part of a multidisciplinary team endeavor among three CGS professors (I'm working with colleagues from the Social Science and Humanities Divisions) that will conclude with a capstone project titled "Making the invisible visible."

What I love about the course we are now embarking on is that we are taking a wholly new approach. I consider this course to be an incubator for new ways about thinking about science, just as my faculty team is an incubator for new ways to approach the year-end capstone project. It's an honor to have the opportunity to work creatively with the intelligent and creative people on my team. It will be a lot of hard work but I know we're up to it. 

A final word for my students. While lab and lecture are very much connected, they represent different narratives of the same story. Much of the lecture material will come across as factual (though very visually-oriented) while lab will really and truly be a place of play. Connecting these approaches will be part of our challenge this semester. Hopefully the playful aspect of lab will "loosen people up" for lecture, while the "facts" of lecture will inform the way we build and play in lab. This blog, which students will contribute to weekly as part of their group lab work, is where we'll record our impressions of the process. I'm so excited for the semester to begin!

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