Science Team Competes in Stony Brook Protein Modeling Challenge

In a continued quest for excellence in science research, a team of ambitious Deer Park High School students – David Golann, Ian Murray, Nicole-Ann Pagan and John Pawelko – competed in the recent Protein Modeling Challenge at Stony Brook University, placing 13th out of 30 teams.

During the competition, hosted by Stony Brook’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, the four young scientists displayed a model of a Ras protein that they had spent two months creating prior to the event. The team prepared by meeting once a week to learn how to build the model using 3D modeling software. The students were also required to write an essay about the protein and what they represented in their model.  

“I’m super proud of how the team did at this year’s competition,” said science teacher David Knuffke. “Taking time to build a protein model after school on Fridays really speaks to the initiative and effort of the students involved.”

In the other main phase of the challenge, the Deer Park team competed on-site to build an arginine finger model. Both this protein and the Ras protein play major roles in cell signaling in mammals, and mutations in Ras are one of the most common mutations found in human cancer cells. “The material is directly connected to the AP Biology curriculum, which deals with protein structure and function, cell signaling, and cancer,” explained Knuffke.

The advanced tools that the Deer Park team used for the project also reflect the current rigorous state of the curriculum. “Seeing students using tools that were not available even 10 years ago is an amazing thing to watch,” said Knuffke. “I’m glad that events like this provide students with these kinds of authentic experiences that serve them well as they pursue their interests in the biological sciences.”