CSTA Classroom Science

COVID-19: Science to the rescue

By Tim Herman, 3D Molecular Designs

The following article contains content presented by 3D Molecular Designs at the 2022 California Science Education Conference last October. Join us for the 2023 California Science Education Conference and visit premier partner 3DMD in the expo hall. 

In spite of the many challenges presented to educators by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, science teachers have been presented with a rare opportunity to talk with their students about the remarkable way in which science responded to this challenge, delivering an effective vaccine against CoV-2 in less than one year.

This is a story of the process of science. How does science get done? Who does science? Is science competitive or collaborative? 

As teachers engage their students in conversations related to these important questions, students develop an understanding of basic science concepts and how this knowledge is being translated into effective approaches to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

3D Molecular Designs created a physical model of the CoV-2 coronavirus.  We believe that physical models give meaning to words.  This physical model of CoV-2 can be used by students as they make sense of the virus infection process and how a vaccine can result in the creation of antibody proteins that block that infection process.  A recent NIH SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) award to 3D Molecular Designs is currently funding the development of augmented reality technology that will further enhance the power of these physical models. 

Looking forward, 3D Molecular Designs has recently received a five-year NIH SEPA award (Science Education Partnership Award) that will fund the development of additional instructional materials related to the topic of infectious diseases. We are currently working with teachers participating in 3DMD’s Model Teacher program to create additional classroom-ready materials that put the specific story of coronavirus research into the broader context of infectious diseases.  Among the materials currently under development are:

 (i) physical models of a collection of viruses commonly encountered in a high school curriculum;
(ii) an mRNA vaccine design activity in which students will engineer the nucleotide sequence of the gene encoding the coronavirus spike protein to function more effectively as a vaccine
(iii) materials addressing the immune system and how it responds to a vaccine, and
(iv) a vaccine construction kit with which students will explore another innovative vaccine platform that creates multi-valent, ultra-potent vaccines based on the science developed in David Baker’s lab at the Institute for Protein Design in Seattle.  

A series of summer workshops introducing teachers to these new instructional materials will begin in 2024.  Applications for this new workshop (Tomorrow’s Science Today: preparing for the next pandemic) will be available on our web site in the fall of 2023.  If you are interested in participating in 3DMD's Modeling the Molecular World workshops, visit their website for registration details for their Summer 2023 schedule.



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