Department Offers Hands-on Workshops to Teach Computer Programs Valuable for Research

Technology is becoming more and more important for the study of biochemistry. Powerful computer programs can help researchers make three-dimensional models of molecules or analyze their data to create easy-to-understand plots. In the Department of Biochemistry, senior scientist Jean-Yves Sgro is bringing hands-on workshops to students, staff, and faculty so they can learn these valuable skills.

Sgro hosts more than 20 hands-on workshops per semester, with small class sizes so each student can get personalized attention. Two popular programs he teaches are PyMOL, software that allows users to make molecular representations based mostly on published crystallographic or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data, and R, a free statistical program to help analyze and visualize data they collect. He also has workshops on the programming language Python and the department’s Linux Cluster.

“My philosophy is giving biochemists access to the computer world to provide them some basis of understanding so they feel more confident and hopefully go a little further into analyzing or illustrating their own experimental data,” Sgro says. “The purpose is so they can better visualize and present their data to publish papers and further the field of biochemistry.”

Individuals interested in classes can look at the array of offerings in the Google Calendar and also register through the calendar, unless a class is already full. The workshops take place in Room 201 of the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Laboratories. Sgro adds that at the bottom of the workshops page are all of the materials and handouts used in the workshops. These are available to anyone at any time.

Jean-Yves teaching to a room of seven students. Jean-Yves helping two students at their computers.

Sgro keeps the class sizes small so he can give each student hands-on attention. Although each class usually contains only six people, for the PyMOL and some other workshops he can accommodate a few more if they bring laptops. He explains that visualizing molecules in this way can give insight into perhaps how a potential drug can bind to an active site in an enzyme.

“Not really that long ago, our technology classes consisted of teaching students how to use PowerPoint,” he says. “Things are so different now. I like to introduce them to new computer programs that can help them make their research better and get it published. It’s great when students take advantage of this resource.”