Monday, 17 February 2014

Logs.... roots and trees?

Miss McKendry and I have been trying to find a way of supporting maths in the Innovation labs, ever since we plotted experimental growth curves for E.coli, grown at two temperatures. I also thought it would be helpful if you would be given some simple applied maths questions such as calculating serial dilutions and the number of cycles needed to achieve a million fold amplification of a DNA sample in a forensic experiment. It was then that Miss McKendry pointed out that logs are only taught in Y13, to maths, chemistry and physics A level students. So, I thought, time for another crusade. Students in the innovation labs will not leave the UTC without an appreciation of the value and use of exponential relationships in the analysis of experimental data.

I then started thinking about other fundamental experimental relationships in the Life Sciences and the inadequate preparation you have for University or Laboratory work. In fact, I have been talking about pH, with an assumption that this everyone from Y10 on would be familiar with the origin of this shorthand (negative log of the hydrogen ion concentration). When we come to measure rates of enzyme catalysed reactions, the Michaelis-Menten relationship (left), 
which takes the form of a rectangular hyperbola, or more complex still, the cooperative haemoglobin binding curve (right), both of which are bread and butter to experimental Biologists! Without at least an appreciation of the maths underlying these graphical methods, how can you hope to understand the mechanism of enzyme action, drug inhibition, antibody-antigen interactions, ion transport and so many other quantitative assays that are used in the laboratory every day. So we need to make sure that you all appreciate the relationship between the doubling of cells during growth, the amplification of DNA strands during PCR (the polymerase chain reaction) etc., and even if you are not one of those (small number of) students who is fascinated by the mathematical side of Science, you will not feel "exposed" when you go onto your placements and when you eventually graduate form the UTC. 

So watch this space for how we intend to improve your applied maths in the Innovation labs. We have discussed logs, I will get on to roots and trees in another Blog. I shall leave you now with two quotes, the first is from Galileo Galilei: "If I were again beginning my studies, I would follow the advice of Plato and start with mathematics". The second is from another slightly more recent, towering figure of science, who often expressed his modesty, Albert Einstein: "Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater." I know mine are! 

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