Insulin Sculpture

This blog describes the process of students building a spatially accurate 7 ft sculpture of a monomer of the Insulin protein showing alpha helices and beta sheets using chicken wire, duct tape and copper tubing.

Day 1:Nov 18th 2011 Joss Richer from Fredericton Visits

On November 18th (a Friday) our Chemistry 12 class had a special guest come in to help us start our ambitious project that we hope to complete before Christmas. I’ll fill you in a little bit on what happened and what were doing. So, first things first, the project were working on is a model of Insulin. Our Insulin will (hopefully!) look like the 4INS cartoon/ribbon model when finished, complete to an accurate scale. The material we are working with is galvanized wire, chicken wire, paper, wallpaper paste, and possibly a couple pieces of copper tubing. Our procedure will go a little like figuring out our scale and measurements, laying it all out, and building off of that. It’s a little (okay, a lot) complicated and we’re still all a little confused, but we know we’ll get there. Now! For a recap of Friday; Joss Richer, an artist, visited our class for First period, our “Directed Study Block”, lunch, and Fourth period. We didn’t get started on our actual model, so I don’t really have too much to report to you on our progress. He taught us how to work with the material, we practiced folding, bending, and manipulating wire and chicken wire with pliers, we also made wire hearts (we’re lame, we know). He also taught us how to solder with a blowtorch.. Which was utterly terrifying, yet extremely fun. We haven’t made much progress when it comes to the construction of our Insulin, yet, but it’s coming along.

Day 2 Skype with Dr. Dan Gurnon

What does a biochemist see when they look at the virtual model? On November 25th, our class had a pretty cool experience. In respect to our Insulin project, we organized a skype “date” with Doctor Dan Gurnon from DePaw University. It was like a Q&A, and was beyond helpful to us (not to mention fun!). He showed us the model of the Insulin we were working with and helped us by explaining why the 4INS model looked like it did. He also explained to us why the ribbons bent and twisted like they did; that there were reasons for the spirals and arrows, and about the hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts of our Insulin molecule. Although our connection wasn’t the best (awesome bandwidth!!…not), and we had a bit (okay, a little more than a bit) of technical difficulty, all in all it turned out great. We’re now a step further not only in understand the shape of Insulin, but also why it looks like it does. Hopefully our sculpture looks like it’s suppose to in the end!

Day 3 Construction Begins Let the Blood, Sweat and Tears begin!

Students using Ipad to determine the map and scale.

As for today, November 29th, we made some progress in the building of our Insulin. We’ve started making the first side of it; the side with the coil and the arrow. It’s a slow start, but progress is being made. We’ve plotted our coordinates and started cutting and measuring segments and dividing the work between everyone. We’ve discovered that making the bigger side of the Insulin is definitely more complicated than we anticipated and takes a lot of organization. We’ve decided that instead of making it one giant piece (we thought it would work better than doing it in segments) we would make it up of small pieces and conjoin it together once they’re all done. Also, we’ve made a decision to scrap the paper and glue to cover our project and go with duct tape. Sound interesting? It will be once it’s done (we hope!). We’re hoping that the duct tape will not only make it look esthetically pleasing, but give it more stability to account for the fact that it’s now a bunch of separate pieces rather than one giant piece (we also think it’d be more fun, and less mess). 

Students pacing the wire to scale.

Students twisting wire to form and armature.

Checking the armature.

The Chicken Wire Fights BACK… a good time to measure sugar levels??

Day 4

As for today, our progress really took a turn for the better. We tried using the duct tape on a sample piece of wire and chicken wire (see picture!) and we discovered that not only does it look way better, but it gives the chicken wire a bit more structural integrity. The duct tape makes it easier to manipulate and makes it a more uniform bend. We’re almost done the side of the Insulin that we started, we only have a few more wires to twist and we just have to make the last spiral. It’s coming along really great and we’re really happy with what it look like so far, we’re also pretty excited to see what the duct tape will look like on our actual structure. We avoided the majority of injuries this time, however a rogue wire attacked a couple unlucky people but they escaped with minor scratches. Stay tuned!

Testing Duct Tape and Chicken Wire

Chicken Wire coil2 of 3 pieces done

Day 5: Here are some pics of today’s progress.

Duct Tape on Arrow

Duct Tape on Arrow

The class on Helix 1

The class on Helix 1

Helix 1 with Duct tape on one side.

Helix 1 with Duct tape on one side. – 1 full roll required

Day 5. Two days together, time is running out…

This entry is by Mr. Fogarty. . On Monday, the group did not work well together at all. One student was late and all was in chaos. Fortunately, that student arrived and things got done. They are having troubles turning the 2d structure into a 3 D structure, the wire does not hold its intended form with duct tape as it would with paper machete. There are students working and others standing around. Some by standees do not know what to do and others do not want to do anything. Communication is not happening well. A suggestion is given, but the extroverts are not listening and giving due consideration. Te introverts are using it as proof not to speak. We said something, it was a good idea, it got shot down.
I suggested to them the disjunction and that they were not listening. They were quiet, said, ok, hat do you have to say. Before the paragraph could be completed, it was…that can’t work because. They were heard but listened too. Group dynamics is getting in the way of productivity. 21 C skills need to be taught.

Two days in one..part b

Today was much better. I told them about the dysfunction again. There were fewer bystanders. However, there were two distinct groups. Those who were working on the sculpture and those who got left out. The ones who were left out found something to do. That something was important. The work that got done was crucial, was productive. BUT, it was not a team, community feeling. A step in the right direction, but still to where I hope to be by June with science 12 and physics.

On the good side, they did figure out how to do the 3D structure. They used heavier wire from Chain link fence to form a center spine. Then they sewed fishing line on edge of the coil to the other edge of the coil to form the helix. Worked pretty well.

How are we going to make the coil keep its shape?

Day 7 Last week before Christmas

Yesterday and today were much better. Our project manager was absent, so it kind of sent things sideways. But they improvised and organize and got stuff done.

They used the solid model and the IPAD to determine how many coils in the helix, and started joinging the major pieces together. They have to worry about colockwise or counter clockwise twists. Lots of 3D rotational aptitudes coming to light. The combination of ipad and solid stucture were crucial.

Ipad helping with 3D rotationaI the bend right?

Day 8 Chem 12 Insulin comes to a close

Posted on January 21, 2012 by foggs

Chem 12 is now over. The insulin project has mixed reviews. There was lots of science learning. But the biggest learning was that working in groups with others is tough. It became really obvious that when some people still think about their own ideas, when they do work when it is convenient to them, that is when relationships get hurt. People will voice an opinion perhaps only once. If that opinion is not well received (not that it has to be followed), then the individuals shut down and the team shuts down.

Lots of learning. A little bit of science…A bunch of 21C. Which is more important?

I’m still waiting for an info plaque, the right angles to be determined in 3D space, diagrams, pictures and a video.

Exam week ends next week. Here’s hoping.

Day 9 We’re Baaacck!

The insulin sculpture is back. Some of my students who were in chem 12 are now in my science 12 course. They want to improve on it. I agree. So I gave it to them. Here are their posts for the first 2 days.Here are the first two days (Feb. 9th and 10th).Day 1: Four projects. Twenty-eight students. Nine days.Mr. Fogarty introduced four different projects to us. There was a broken plaster model of an insulin modecule that needed repair, a foam molecule of insulin that needed to be assembled, a large molecule of insuling that needed repair, tidying up, and a plaque to be made, (notice a pattern?), and finally, a hanging DNA molecule to be assembled for another science teacher’s classroom. Mr. Fogarty briefly explained what we needed to do, then left the classroom, leaving us to fend for ourselves. We divided ourselves into groups and went to it.The plaster molecule group of two students was faced with the job of finding a bonding agent to hold the plaster together. They picked up the pieces and talked about possible ideas. Glue? Paste? Silly putty? One of the students has a brother in construction whom he thinks might know how to hold plaster together. They bounced ideas off of each other and ended up deciding to try the brother for a solution.The foam molecule group was faced with a simple- yet challenging- task. Their assignment was to assemble a molecule out of a “foam insulin model” kit, and to evaluate the ease of use and overall experience of the project. (Mr. Fogarty got the kit, which isn’t cheap, as a gift from a friend of his who makes them; the friend wants our input on whether the kit is worth the money.) The students managed to assemble most of the molecule, but were confused as to how certain parts were to be oriented.The large molecule group started by dividing up the tasks. The students placed themselves in small groups: one to finish cleaning up the structure of the molecule itself and one for the creation of a plaque to accompany the display of the molecule (with smaller sub-groups for the history of insulin, the economic value of the patent, and the organic chemistry behind insulin). Division of tasks happened quickly. The two remaining students were tasked with chronicling the process. One has more experience with video and video editing, so he decided to take on the assignment of making two video documentaries of the projects- one offering a brief glimpse (around two minutes) of the processes, while the other will be around thirteen minutes and offer a more detailed look. The other-yours truly- is more comfortable writing, so his job is that of blogging the progress.Day 2Today, the class emigrated to a nearby classroom so that we could work on the Wonder Wall- a brief project from the previous week. Most of us worked for a bit on the Wall, then when there was less work to do, all except for a few people from each group went back to their tasks.

The plaster molecule group had a minor setback; one of the members had found the bonding agent that his brother recommended, but had forgotten it at home. The period was spent researching other possible bonding methods should the first fail, as well as facing the problem of how to hold it while the glue sets.

The foam molecule group assembled the rest of the molecule, but still faced the issue of how to orient certain specific parts. As seen in the photos, the purple part of their molecule doesn’t yet match the picture on the kit. They know what the molecule has to do, but when they bend it to that position, it returns once it is let go. They don’t seem too concerned about this, though.

The large molecule group is still split up. The people in charge of the physical model, which is in the other classroom, are seeing where they can help. Those tasked with the history of insulin have done some research on their own time, and are now going through the process of picking out the relevant information from the research and compiling it on a Word document.

The DNA molecule group is still working well. Having known their responsibilities from the get-go, the group has been working and collaborating between each other since yesterday. No one has a set task; they took time yesterday to ensure that everyone knows what is required for each piece of the molecule, and the group members have each been doing whatever needs to be done ever since. 

Days 10 & 11

Posted on February 27, 2012 by foggs

Work continues well. So far, there has been a distinct lack of conflict between group members all across the class.
The plaster model group is still gluing pieces together. The glue is holding well so far; however, since it takes more than a class for it to dry, their progress is limited to a couple pieces per day.

The foam molecule group is still making minor adjustments to the molecule. They started using the iPad to get a better handle on the orientation of the molecule in three-dimensional space- with a useful app, they are able to rotate the molecule and view it from different angles.

The large molecule group has been continuing their work. Fixing the construction of the molecule itself is currently under way, with the focus being the building of more of the actual proteins (the
previous group hadn’t made them quite long enough), trimming wires, and generally tidying up the molecule’s appearance. As far as the plaque goes, one student is finishing the history of insulin, another is researching the organic chemistry of the insulin molecule, and another is finding information on the patent.

The DNA model group is nearly finished. All individual pieces have been assembled; all that remains is to piece them together on the frame, which the group starts doing today. They will probably finish tomorrow.

Day 12

The plaster model group is still gluing pieces. However, they are missing a crucial piece that supports another smaller piece, so the end result will be missing two pieces.

The foam molecule group has finished the molecule, having used textbooks and the iPad as references.  Mr. Fogarty suggested using Marvin Animation software to create a quick presentation on insulin, giving a general overview of the molecule  itself.

The large molecule group has split yet again. Some students who were helping with the building of the molecule are currently working on creating large graph paper, which will be used as a reference when they orient the molecule later.

Day 13

The plaster model group was locked out of the room where the model was stored for the first half of class, so they worked on math homework. Eventually they gained access to the model, though, and glued the last pieces that they could onto the model. Hooray!

The foam molecule group continues the Marvin animation project.

The large molecule group put the graph paper up on the walls today. There still remains some minor adjustments on the molecule  itself. In addition, it has been discovered that when last semester’s
class started work on the molecule, they didn’t quite build it to scale, so the end result may not be quite perfect.

Members of the DNA model group continued to help out where they could

Day 14 Insulin Report Video

Posted on April 11, 2012 by foggs

Here is a link to a movie describing the Insulin project.