All posts by Chinyere Enemchukwu

Cool Chem Draw Program

When trying to figure out graphics to make my poster, my mentor advised that I use a free trial Chem Draw. I had never heard of it before and up until then I had made some graphics on my poster stringing together different shapes on  Microsoft PowerPoint. But there were just some figures that I was not able to make very easily. So when he told me about Chem Draw, at first it sounded like a program that could help me to draw chemical structures (which I needed as well) and I thought it ended there. But it was so much more! I geeked out when I saw all the different scientific structures and clip art that it automatically can draw for you, and you simply just make it the size you want. And it spans so many areas of science!

I would love to have a program like that to use for making my lessons or even having students draw different structures to represent their understanding during the school year.  It could even be super helpful for our Science Fair program. However—the full version comes with a hefty price tag. So for now, it will simply go on my wish list of things that are super cool and would be awesome to be able to utilize in the classroom one day. In the meantime I  will just marvel and be amazed.

This image shows some of the different things that the program can do as far as clip art and structures. And this only scratches the surface.

Wonderful Water Treatment Field Trip

The highlight of my week so far has been getting to go on this Houston Water Treatment facility field trip. I think it was really well done. The whole experience was such that I could tell that it would be super engaging for my students, and somehow managed to keep me fascinated as well.I just loved the variety of methods they used to get information across. It allowed me to take it all in in a format that wasn’t boring or repetitive and engaged all my senses. It’s reminding me of how when I am back in the classroom this year, that the more modalities I can teach my students in, the better the information will stick. They really did get across the different points of why water was important, how much we use (which is always surprising) ways we harm our water, etc.

For instance, for sound, they had pipes that you could talk into and hear someone else on the other side–what they would “sound like through water”. They also had a model boat that was full of trash to demonstrate visually how much pollution is dumped into our water ways. They allowed you to taste the water the that was made there with the continual emphasis on how the quality is superior quality by the time it leaves the facilities.  They had displays that had tactile components–and they even guided us through with a scavenger hunt to find the important information throughout the museum.

I even really enjoyed the “Water Cycle” Lesson that they had us do after going through the museum portion.  It was really fun! I also immediatley started thinking about all the different ways I could implment a similar lesson in the future with other concepts that I teach during the year. As I was talking to a group of other teachers at lunch some suggested things like the carbon or nitrogen cycle as other ways a lesson similar to this could be used.

I will certainly try and see if I can schedule  field trip for my students to go to this one, especially since we have a Watershed unit in our curriculum toward the end of the year.

A display that showed how much water was consumed doing normal household tasks


A display that showed water borne pathogens in a really interesting way–as wanted posters.

A model boat and the amount of trash that you can find in our bodies of water.

This was part of the lesson plan where we got to pretend we were a water molecule and travel through all the different parts of the water cycle by rolling some die.

Loved it! Even though we were unable to tour their actually treatment side of the facilities due to their expansion and renovations–even the part that we did get to do was truly exceptional!

Mini Prep

This week I have been learning how to do mini preps (plasmid purification)  independently. The process includes lots of pippetting, centrifuging many buffers that serve different purposes, but in the end help to purify our plasmid product. After the plasmid is purified, the concentration of nucleic acid in the sample is measured using a Nanodrop machine. Once this is completed, the sample is ready to be sent off for sequencing. This sequencing allows us to identify into which sites the plasmid has incorporated our non canonical amino acid (ncAA)  mutation.  Once those sites are known and isolated, it allows us to plate plasmid containing bacterial colonies with a single site mutation at different temperatures.  I must say, I love being in the lab and getting the privilege to play even a small part in this work because its broader implications could be massive, and the work is equally as fascinating as it is challenging.

The first photo below shows an apparatus that is hooked up to a vacuum where wash buffers are used for the plasmid purification. And the second picture shows the Nanodrop machine.

ncAA’s and not the Basketball kind…

It has been a great week filled with learning and growing as a scientist! Even as a teacher, consider myself a lifelong learner. So, having the opportunity to strengthen my science skills and understanding has been tremendous!

In Dr. Xiao’s lab, We are working a project that is incorporating synthesized non-canonical amino acids (ncAA) (amino acids that are outside of the 20 that occur in nature) to enhance protein thermal stability.

So this week’s activities have included making various solutions, incubating, culturing and plating E.coli cells, sending plasmids samples out for sequencing, analyzing sequences of plasmids to look for incorporation of our mutant ncAA and comparing it to wild type amino acid sequences for the enzyme Beta Lactamase. There’s also many smaller steps in between, and in between each step,  I am learning new procedures, calculations and mindsets.

And even though I have been teaching science for years, I had never done something as routine in a lab as using an autoclave. I learned how to operate one this week.

So all around, I’ve been learning lots, and look forward to learning even more in the weeks to come.

This is a picture of me plating a culture of e-coli cells. (And if you at all concerned about the open flame in the picture, don’t be! It’s to sterilize the ethanol soaked tool that we use to spread the bacteria culture onto the plate smoothly.)