(December 19, 2013)

Alumnus, faculty have paper published in scientific journal

SHREVEPORT, LA — Alumnus Harry Chiang '13 recently had a paper published as first author in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education journal. Chiang completed the paper with the help of Centenary’s Associate Professor of Physics and Biophysics Dr. Troy Messina, Vanderbilt faculty member Dr. Cynthia Brame, and LSUS faculty member Dr. Lucy Robinson.

Harry Chiang
Harry Chiang '13

The paper was a product of a project the group collectively worked on starting with experiments Brame and Robinson conducted, which Brame later incorporated into her Genetics class. Students explored what happened to an enzyme if a gene was modified in the laboratory. Brame set up labs for students to see the process of introducing a mutation to observe changes in function, but there was no way to visualize why a mutation caused functional changes. Messina had used computer simulations in the past for similar processes and was asked if the program could model the experiment digitally.

Chiang, a biology major, was already working with Brame on the research project. He learned how to use the software and became interested in computer science.

"I was on track to complete my degree with a bunch of credit hours to spare, so I decided to take some computer science courses," said Chiang.

With his knowledge of this new discipline, Chiang incorporated the work from the genetics lab into a computer program with the mentorship of Messina. For weeks, he spent hours reading and researching until he finally created a successful implementation.

"I like to tinker with things, and a lot of my time spent with (the computer program) was tinkering," said Chiang. "Dr. Messina knew what he was doing, and I could have gone to him for help on a lot of things, but I wanted to learn how to use the software myself. I only asked him questions when I was really stumped."

Later as a Teaching Assistant, Chiang helped teach students in Brame’s class how to implement modeling with the software and analyze the results. Students could then see if the lab experiment and computer simulation agreed with one another.

"Once the computer program was in the genetics class, students seemed to like it because they could see something microscopic happening; put a picture to what they couldn't see happening in a petri dish," said Messina. "We thought if a student can put this program together and teach it, then surely a professor can do it. So we published the program as an activity in an educational journal so students could learn about structure and function in biological molecules."

Chiang, now a first-year medical student at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at Shreveport, enjoyed the process of experimentation to reach his final goal of a digitally simulated enzyme model.

"Learning about the experiments done by scientists in class is one thing…but you don't even begin to grasp the amount of hours they probably spent toiling away in a lab," said Chiang.

The published paper can be found online here.

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