Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How do I get involved with D3?

See our Getting Involved page for specific resources and our Timeline and Planning pages.

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Q2. How are students recruited for D3 and at what stage of your program? Is it a mandatory or optional, have you observed any groups that find it harder to engage than others?

The program is part of our second semester organic lab taken by chemistry, biology, engineering, pre-med, and other majors. In biology, it is part of the freshman intro biology lab course as well as the upperclassmen microbiology lab. We felt it would have the greatest impact if it were part of the fabric of our major/minor coursework. We also believe it is a crucial step in preparing our undergraduates for junior/senior research. There is definitely a population of students that don't engage as much with D3 mostly due to 1) the length and depth of the drug discovery process from design to synthesis to screening, 2) not enjoying basic science coursework in general, 3) general confusion from the difference in pedagogy between previous "traditional" lab coursework, and 4) pre-conceived ideas about what they need to succeed for career aspiration (MCATs, etc.). We are still working on addressing these concerns, but the students who fall into this population are in the minority. This is typically the students favorite lab experience even among other non-traditional labs.  See our Resources for Teachers/Faculty page for more information.

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Q3. What do you think is the single biggest motivation for students to be involved in the program? What elements of the program do they say they enjoy?

By far the biggest motivation is the student's involvement in designing, synthesizing and testing new molecules that could help solve a real world problem and that won't get thrown away at the end of the semester. We think this strength will only increase as we improve our online database access and information sharing. Students enjoy the applied nature of chemistry to biology/drug discovery.  See our Resources for Students page for more information.

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Q4. How do students respond to be part of a broader task? In what way do you provide clear feedback on what happens to their results and the impact that this makes?

We recognize there is a strong need to have a better informatics foundation in D3. It should allow facilitated tracking of information - from compound identity, to analytical chemical data on individual student lots, to biological evaluation (sometimes in multiple assays). D3 also places a strong premium on reproducibility in all its research aspects. For example, each new compound is made by at least one other student (often multiple students, sometimes at distant global institutions). We are at a beginning level in the informatics area and believe there will be an incredible flowering of interest, collaboration and impact when the information being generated through D3 can be readily accessed by students.  See our Resources for Computational Chemists for more information.

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Q5. What, if any, resistance did you find when setting up the program from fellow academics or support staff? Your website highlights that you have received a number of small grants to help toward costs of chemicals - how important have these been, and could you see the program succeeding without external funding?

The length of the lab (from two 3 hr labs in biology to four or five lab periods in chemistry) can draw resistance.  However, it is close to that of many textbook labs. At IUPUI, we include other activities outside of the classroom that can increase the duration of the D3 program. From a lab prep standpoint, there is a learning curve in working with solid-phase chemistry that many faculty would need to work through. However, we've provided some resources to facilitate this process. The biological screens currently in place should not present a significant hurdle, though we are still developing and polishing these so we haven't tested them offsite. Finally, computational labs always face a mental barrier (more so than a practical challenge) as many small schools do not possess computational faculty. Most of our partnerships here have been with larger schools.

Cost, in terms of the chemistry aspect, is always an issue. We take this matter seriously since our goal is to enable schools with very limited resources to be part of the D3 program. We believe as D3 gathers collaborators this will become less of an issue. For example we are already establishing a “loaner” program for the Bill-Board equipment so that schools will not have to purchase it, but can simply return it to the loaner site (or directly transfer it to a sister school in the collaboration). We are continually engaging our independent undergraduate students with the research challenge of modifying D3 procedures to minimize expense (e.g. use less solvent, reagents accessible in bulk discount) as well as optimizing lab procedures for minimum environmental impact. These challenges, beyond drug discovery, are also wonderful formats for student engagement in authentic research. We are absolutely dedicated to reducing cost so that the program can run with just the internal support that would normally be available at a given institution. This will be the key to long term sustainability.

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 Q6. How did the network of other universities using D3 take shape. Does the model work the same in every participating university and do all students work on the same bank of compounds? What do you think has prevented you spreading the programme further?

Contacts at other universities were made mostly organically, through person to person encounters and word of mouth. Our presentations at local and national ACS meetings have led to a number of collaborations. A formalized networking structure will be centered around a workshop program that will be published and refined as part of our pending NSF grant.

The model is not identical for every participating university. Small, under-resourced schools might involve just a few students as independent researchers working with their professor. Some schools are focusing on helping develop future D3 synthetic labs (these will then be tested out at a sister institution to verify reproducibility and applicability). Some schools use our simpler and shorter D3 procedures.

We are just beginning to work out the details of commonly shared projects/compounds. The database of all computation, synthetic, and biological information is not far off. We still have deep informatics needs. One of them is to enable a facile (probably online) distribution protocol so work isn't duplicated. We have a small team here at IUPUI and most of our challenges have been in the details (website development, administrative work, writing and maintaining grant funding, etc.). We believe that if awarded our pending NSF grant we will secure the additional resources necessary to spread the program.