Molecular Graphics in Undergraduate Science Education

Introduction to the Structure of Biological Molecules

Copyright 1995, Richard B. Hallick. All rights reserved



This is an experimental project begun at the University of Arizona to use computer graphics still images, movies, and interactive molecular graphics to enhance the teaching of molecular structure to undergraduate students of biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology.

The beginning biology student, normally armed with only a high school chemistry course as preparation, is confronted with detailed concepts about the structure of biological molecules, often in the first few weeks of the freshman year. Most begin their study of biology with little or no knowledge of organic chemistry, and at best a concurrent course in introductory chemistry. Beginning chapters in the typical introductory biology textbook deal with amino acids, sugars, fats, nucleotides, stereochemistry, assymetric carbon atoms, isomers, functional groups, and polarity of molecules.This is immediately followed by an introduction to proteins and nucleic acids.

In our experience, students learn about structure from models, either physical models or through computer graphics modeling. Through models, students begin to appreciate that understanding chemistry is fundamental to a study of biology, and learn to think about the question of "How does it really work?"

Our vision is to make static, single view textbook images come alive on the computer screen, to allow students to view graphic images, rotate them in 3D on the computer screen, and switch between different molecular representations, such as wire-frame, ball-and-stick, space-filling, and protein secondary structure (ribbon) diagram.

Computer Graphics Resources

A number of computer resources were used to create the molecular models described in this project. Most are readily available for non-commercial use.

About the Authors

Richard B. Hallick

Dr. Hallick is Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Arizona. He has authored the HTML documents, molecular graphics image files, and tutorials. Photo of Rick

Eugene W. Myers, Jr

Dr. Myers is Professor of Computer Science at the University of Arizona. He has written the molecular graphics rendering algorithms that underlie this project. Photo of Gene

Jerome J. Jahnke

Mr. Jahnke is a senior programmer at the BSD Office of Academic Computing, University of Chicago. He has written the interface for Linus, created tutorial authoring tools, and been the technical consultant on the project. Photo of Jer