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Abstract

The technology now exists to construct physical models of proteins based on atomic coordinates of solved structures. We review here our recent experiences in using physical models to teach concepts of protein structure and function at both the high school and the undergraduate levels. At the high school level, physical models are used in a professional development program targeted to biology and chemistry teachers. This program has recently been expanded to include two student enrichment programs in which high school students participate in physical protein modeling activities. At the undergraduate level, we are currently exploring the usefulness of physical models in communicating concepts of protein structure and function that have been traditionally difficult to teach. We discuss our recent experience with two such examples: the close-packed nature of an enzyme active site and the pH-induced conformational change of the influenza hemagglutinin protein during virus infection.