Brandeis Summer School interviewed Jason Pontrello, Ph.D, an assistant professor in Chemistry at Brandeis University. Jason has been teaching at Brandeis since the Fall of 2008 and will be teaching two courses this summer. Check out the great interview below:
Brandeis University Summer School: How are your lab classes different than most?
Jason Pontrello: My lab courses focus on hypothesis development and interpretation of data rather than reproduction of expected or anticipated results from prior work. Half the lab experiments in the Fall semester incorporate the synthesis of a small molecule designed to inhibit the Tat protein/TAR-RNA interaction necessary for HIV replication. The experiments in the Spring semester incorporate the synthesis of metalloprotease inhibitors as well as compounds designed to affect protein aggregation in Huntington’s Disease. Students find, follow, and adapt procedures recently published in scientific literature, rather than relying on standardized textbook experiments. To carry out the reactions, students must learn how to use equipment that is commonly used in synthetic chemistry research labs. In addition, the Huntington’s Disease project represents a collaboration between introductory organic and biology teaching labs. The compounds organic chemistry students synthesize are tested in both in vitro and in vivo assays in the biology lab.
BUSS: What courses will you be teaching this summer?
JP: Organic Chemistry Lectures (Chemistry 25a/b) and Organic Chemistry Laboratories (Chemistry 29a/b)
BUSS: What do you think are the benefits of Brandeis Summer School for students?
JP: While the pace of a summer course is challenging to adapt to and required commitment to the enrolled course, the structure of the program and small size of the class (about 40 students) compared with the Fall/Spring semesters carry substantial benefits. Students are immersed in the subject of organic chemistry during 2 hour lecture, 4 days a week. This makes it possible to begin talking about a topic, and to finish during the same lecture or the next day. During the Fall/Spring semesters, with 3 lectures a week, topics often become fragmented and relevance can be lost as students are focusing on many other course requirements as well. I also noticed a strong group dynamic created among students in the summer classes. This same dynamic is experienced during Fall/Spring semesters, but it is more focused around the smaller recitations rather than the larger lecture course as a whole.