Excitement for the year of GK12

My name is Allen Eastlund and I am a new GK12 member this year. My background is in physics and my current research is in biophysics. I specifically study DNA regulation. For a little more depth, think of it this way: the DNA inside your cells is packed very tightly and to correctly regulate the information stored in the DNA it has to be unpacked in the right order. If it’s not, all sorts of genetic disorders can pop up such as cancer, alzheimers, and tumors. To fully understand the genetic cause of some of these diseases, we have to understand how the DNA packaging is regulated; I study the proteins that are responsible for this regulation and hopefully we can figure out what they do wrong and fix it.

Taking this sort of information into a younger environment has been interesting. I’m having a wonderful time so far teaching and being taught inside of an Olathe high school classroom but I did notice a lot of blank stares when I mentioned most of these topics. I have been asked two very interesting and fun questions regarding biophysics, namely “If you study biology, where’s the physics?” and “which is more fundamental, physics or biology?” The second is a paraphrase but I’m sure she won’t mind and you get the picture.

What I found really interesting about these questions (besides my answers) was the perception that these sciences are entirely separate! That physics happens at a collider in Geneva and Biology happens in test tubes and flasks. I prodded them a little bit before giving them my answer, asking why they thought they were separate and they were flabbergasted that I even asked the question. They had been brought through the school system without ever a single mention of any sort of overlap so to have a ‘biophysicist’ in front of them was very strange and exotic.

After telling them that physics is the basis of what makes anything work in the physical world and that biology is a very (very, very) complex application of physical properties, they suddenly seemed much more interested in my presence in the room!

I look forward to an excellent year in GK12!

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