Neuroscience professor publishes collaborative research effort on biological modeling

GREENVILLE, Pa.—Associate Professor of Neuroscience Greg Butcher, Ph.D., has coauthored a research project that was recently published in Bioscene: Journal of College Biology Teaching.

The article, “An Introduction to Biological Modeling Using Coin Flips to Predict the Outcome of a Diffusion Activity,” was coauthored with Juan Rodriguez, Ph.D., of St. Louis College of Pharmacy; Scott Chirhart, Ph.D., of Centenary College of Louisiana; and Troy C. Messina, Ph.D., of Berea College. The original goal of the project was to develop a new lab that introduced students to the mathematical modeling of biological phenomena. They chose the concept of diffusion, as students frequently have difficulty understanding how the process works.

Their method involved simulating the movement of molecules within a liquid as a series of coin flips. These simulations generated data that can be used to predict how dye molecules will diffuse through a given solution. They also collected assessment data that indicated students completing their lab understood the concept of diffusion and retained that knowledge better than students completing a traditional lab.   

“This project provided Thiel students with an introduction to modeling that they will build upon in subsequent courses,” Butcher said. “For example, Professor Anderson and I will be implementing several modeling labs in our Neuroscience Methods course this fall.  Developing a solid understanding of modeling should provide our students with skills applicable to many science-related careers.” Instructor of Math and Computer Science Ronald Anderson ’07 teaches Neuroscience Methods with Butcher.

Bioscene is the refereed, biannual publication of the Association of College and University Biology Educators. The paper was published in May in Volume 42 of the journal.

Butcher earned dual B.S. degrees in psychology and zoology from the University of Wyoming. He received his doctorate in neuroscience from The Ohio State University in 2006.

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