At Explore UT, learning yields some sweet rewards
3/4/2010Twizzlers and gumdrops are not usually seen in a biology lab. But every March, University Extension (UEX) instructor Dr. Blinda McClelland uses over 40 pounds of candy at her Explore UT booth, "At Play with DNA." Dr. McClelland has been an avid participant in Explore UT since its inception 11 years ago, introducing Austin-area children and teens to biology by using candy and toothpicks to model molecular DNA.
“The sweets are definitely what initially lures kids in,” Dr. McClelland gleefully admits. But behind the candy lies one of biology’s most powerful and fundamental principles: the function of DNA. The point of the workshop, Dr. McClelland explains, “is to try to give people a sense of wonder about how marvelous it is that this relatively simple molecule is responsible for laying the blueprint for biological organisms and every living thing on this planet.”
Kids walk away with not only a munchable base pair of DNA, but the idea that molecular biology and genetics, is fun. Representing the College of Natural Sciences at the event, Dr. McClelland sees her booth, and all the activities at Explore UT, “as the perfect opportunity to reach out to the public and let them know what we do on a day-to-day basis, and about all the exciting, innovative research and teaching we do at the university.” In addition to the treats, the "At Play with DNA" booth provides instructional materials and fun facts about DNA that teachers and parents can take away.
Dr. McClelland’s own research focuses on animal behavior, an area which she enjoys precisely because “it is very broad-based and integrates most of the branches of biology.” She shares her enthusiasm for biology with her students through a range of introductory and advanced biology courses.