UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 3, March 1996

Oxidative Phosphorylation

A Simulated Experiment

David Day, Mark Arundel and Sue Bennett are part of the `Oxidative Phosphorylation' development team at the ANU

Growing class sizes and declining resources in tertiary education have made support for traditional wet practicals increasingly difficult. In an effort to address the reduction of resources and extend the design of undergraduate experimental work the Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the ANU has developed a series computer-based laboratory exercises and research projects. These are undertaken over two weeks in usual laboratory sessions.

The software has two main parts - an interactive tutorial and a simulation of the data collection process. The software also includes a reference section, calculator, notepad, and log-in facility.

The program begins with an illustrated and animated introduction to mitochondrial metabolism and ATP synthesis providing reinforcement of concepts met in lectures and tutorials. This is followed by an exercise in calculating the quantities and volumes of reagents for media preparation which the students must complete before moving to the next step. Feedback and optional hints are provided to assist them. The final section of the introduction describes the set up and operation of the oxygen electrode through illustrated text and QuickTime movies.

The second part of the program emulates the collection of data in the traditional laboratory-based practical. Second year students are guided through a set of six simple experiments which illustrate the oxidation of various substrates by mitochondria and the effects of various inhibitors and uncouplers. Rates of oxygen uptake can be calculated from the recordings generated on the screen. This version of the simulation is aimed at biochemistry students studying bioenergetics for the first time.

A more advanced version of the simulation provides access to the full range of menu options allowing the selection and addition of mitochondria and reactants in any order or quantity. This is used by third year students to design their own experiments with the program responding realistically to virtually any imagined assay that can be preformed with isolated animal mitochondria. A series of unknown compounds has been built into this version and students are required to design a set of experiments which will lead to a positive identification of the compounds.

The software has been trialed with groups of students at the ANU, the University of Western Sydney, and James Cook University. Evaluation in the form of questionnaires and group discussions was carried out with the assistance of the Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods at the ANU. The results were very encouraging.

The questionnaires indicated that "When comparing the instructional software in this unit with others that the students have used, 74% of the students rated it as excellent or very good whilst 94% either agreed (52%) or strongly agreed (42%) that the software in this unit was a valuable learning resource. Overall comments were laudatory of this innovation...". In a group discussion held at the ANU students were highly positive about the value of the animation for improved visualisation and the opportunity to conceptualise the process without the pressure of data collection.

We recommend that the simulation be used in conjunction with a demonstration of the real equipment and material which allows students to appreciate the technical difficulties which the simulation removes.

David Day, Mark Arundel and Sue Bennett

This project was partially funded by a CAUT Grant (1993) with some equipment supplied by Apple University Development Fund.

For further information on this package contact:
Mr Mark Arundel, Multimedia Coordinator, c/- BaMBi, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200