Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Model Biology

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Model Biology

Article excerpt

Models are at the core of the scientific enterprise. They help us make predictions, understand complex systems, generate new ideas, and visualize both the very large and the very small. Examples include physical models, mathematical models, computer models, climate models, and model organisms such as laboratory mice and Drosophila fruit flies. The generation of models is the creative engine that drives scientific progress.

In biology, perhaps the most famous model of all time is the one constructed by James Watson and Francis Crick. On a Saturday morning in February 1953, the pair used cardboard models to piece together the structure of DNA--arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history of science. Watson reflects, "I just used ordinary sort of thin pieces of white-covered smooth cardboard" (DNALC 2003). Though the materials they used were simple, the resulting model changed everything--from genetics to medicine to forensic science.

My earliest experience with DNA model-building was years ago, in my own 12th-grade biology class. My teacher, Mr. Burke, was a funny, talented man who lit the spark for what was to become my lifelong love of biology. For one project, he suggested that my good friend, Richard Kolotkin, and I "do something with the DNA molecule." The DNA structure had just been discovered in the previous decade, so this was cutting edge at the time. After weeks of sawing, sanding, and painting in Kolotkin's basement woodshop, we emerged with a DNA model that was 1 m tall. …

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