Tuesday, July 2, 2013

From the page to the world of three dimensions

Today, science students viewing cells in a textbook typically perceive microscopic worlds in the same manner as early Earth inhabitants who, gazing to the horizon, thought the world was flat. Two years ago, HudsonAlpha set a course of scientific discovery for students and introduced iCell. Since then, the interactive app iCell has reached 250,000 downloads on iTunes and more than 300,000 downloads across all platforms. HudsonAlpha iCell allows users to explore animal, bacteria and plant cells in a 3D display. 

"The purpose was to help students understand the cell a little better," said Adam Hott, Ed.D., coordinator of educational outreach. "Teachers are telling us students understand the formation and parts of a cell better than they ever have. For a student to truly see and grasp this precept is huge."

In iCell, users may drag, enlarge, shrink and rotate the cell, as well as tap on specific parts of the cell. Descriptions for each part are featured in basic, intermediate and advanced options of level of detail. Educators may also use the app in a classroom setting for teaching and testing.

"As iCell's presence grows, our purpose is broadening to how can we make iCell better, how can we include other types of cells and introduce more functionality and capabilities," Hott said.

The app has been featured across multiple outlets, including being named by Apple as "one of the best" free educational apps. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News listed iCell in its Best Science Apps column and CBE Life Sciences Education journal named it one of the most recommended cell biology apps available. 

HudsonAlpha iCell was developed in partnership with Digital Radiance and is available for free through the iTunes store, the Android Marketplace and Windows 8 store. But digital education at the institute doesn't stop with iCell. The educational outreach team has also developed the Progress of Science interactive timeline and Genome Cache. You can read about them below or follow the links to learn more. 

Progress of Science timeline
From domesticating the first animals used for food to creation of the first self-replicating synthetic bacteria, the Progress of Science interactive timeline links history with scientific discovery. Across the centuries, biotechnology's history can be traced in many thousands of stories of discovery -- a sampling of which is on the timeline. The timeline was originally developed as a 9-by-42-foot wall mural which is on display on the third floor hallway leading to the educational classroom. "The idea came to our director, Neil Lamb, that if we were going to inspire teachers and leaders and students about genetics and biotechnology, walking them down a sterile white hallway is probably not a good start to the experience," Hott said. "The timeline is just beautiful. It's a work of art." 

Genome Cache
Genome Cache is an interactive program that allows anyone to create a walkable path exploring the human genome. More than 20 paths are available in a digital or printable format and range in difficulty, making it a perfect exercise to learn more about the human genome through clues, fun facts and trivia questions. It's an app, a website, a print-out and a walking activity. It's a little bit of everything, Hott said. McMillian Park runs through the center of the HudsonAlpha campus and features a double helix walkway. The Genome Cache can also be organized along the walkway, turning the park into a giant human genome, essentially exploring and walking through all the chromosomes of the human genome. 

Teri Hasemeyer is a senior at the University of Alabama, double majoring in journalism and dance. She'll intern with the Tuscaloosa News during the fall semester with plans to graduate in December. Outside of the newsroom and dance studio, Teri can often be found sipping coffee or participating in a hot yoga class. Currently, she's working as a communications intern through BioTrain.