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Learning About Hot Viruses Can Be Cool

NSF Award:

Integrated Analysis of Cellular Response to Viral Infection in Sulfolobus  (Montana State University)

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Viruses that thrive in the hot, thermal springs of Yellowstone National Park have their own public relations guru. Montana State University's Brian Bothner has developed an outreach program that emphasizes the "cool" aspects of these viruses.

More than 1000 children and adults from rural Montana have participated in the program's interactive discussions and hands-on building of model virus particles. The program is especially important for young girls, introducing them to science and providing opportunities for them to interact with female graduate students from the Bothner lab. These meetings may be their first encounter with women scientists.

Learning modules consist of a short movie, graphics, discussion and hands-on model building as an introduction to the basics of virology and the geometrical principles behind icosahedral viral structures. Icosahedrons are geometric shapes made up of 20 identical equilateral triangular faces and 30 edges.

Participants build virus models using plastic geometrical shapes and paper templates to explore the structure of viruses. The paper virus models are cut out and folded into icosahedrons that can be taken home for show and tell. The program covers topics such as, "What is a virus?" "How do viruses replicate?" "What does a virus look like?" and "Where can viruses be found?" The modules also include an introduction to local viruses such as the extremophiles--organisms that thrive in highly adverse conditions--that live in the hot springs of Yellowstone.

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Paper template used to make 3-D virus models.
Brian Bothner, Montana State University
Making a virus model.
Brian Bothner, Montana State University

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