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An Update on the ORDER (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers) Program

Research Summary

Interest in the chemical and molecular foundations and the origins and evolution of the processes of symbiosis and parasiticism has now grown to include fundamental systems chemistry and chemical evolution. We have compared the evolved strategies for eucaryotic and eubacterial pathogens, defined new strategies for pathogenesis, developed novel methods of reading the information encoded in DNA into different polymers, initiated the field of dynamic combinatorial network chemistry, developed methods for structural analyses of supra-molecular assemblies and used them for the amyloid phases associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and developed the basic elements for chemical evolution and the origins of self-organizing chemical systems.

Project Summary

Recognizing the increasing divide between graduate and undergraduate educational structures and the growing polarization in public opinion on scientific theory and the use of primary evidence, we have used self-organization theory to discover new forms of engagement in public dialog. Our initial experiment was the ORDER (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers) class, a seminar that engaged near-peer mentors and recent Emory discoveries to expose first-semester freshmen students to the diverse programs available in a research University. The ORDER graduate/postdoctoral Scholars, five selected through campus-wide competition of at times almost 100 applicants, worked over the summer to develop their research projects as guides to be used in their class. The first-semester freshmen are challenged to develop a full research project, in 3/4-member teams, where they function as intellectual entrepreneurs. 

The projects use the Emory campus and surrounding community as a laboratory where each student writes and defends orally to the class his or her team’s proposal, the methods of implementation, the longer-term learning goals, and the community impact. The ORDER Scholar mentors, first by explaining their own questions, their formulated hypotheses, and the impact of their results, involves stepping the teams through the stages of their selected projects. Mentors identify resources on campus relevant to the student’s interest, assist them in fine-tuning their actual experiments, serve as sounding boards for their arguments—both written and oral—and coach their presentations.

In the spring of the same academic year the Scholars implemented their same class to graduating seniors with the goal of creating projects that can be implemented after graduation in the major of the individual student. ORDER continues to be marvelously impactful, both for developing the skills of a mature scholar, their ability to work in teams with scholars from very divergent backgrounds, and in their roles as teachers and mentors (www.order.emory.edu/index.html).

With this experience, we have focused our outreach efforts on evolution, a focus that has allowed the graduate/undergraduate/public educational continuum to be combined in videos (vimeo.com/9495749), international symposia (www.emory.edu/evolution; www.umass.edu/pem6), music concerts (blogs.emory.edu/creativity/2012/03/20/everetts-first-life-imagines-the-chemical-origins-of-life/), and symposia in print (esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2012/11/chemists-fine-tune-ideas-on-how-life.html).

One of our most successful creative theater venues has been Group Intelligence (artidea.org/group-intelligence), which has toured along the U.S. East Coast and across Europe. This event allows participants to appreciate first hand the critical importance of diversity to evolutionary success in real-time flash mobs. The infrastructure created by these efforts built the foundation for the first community-wide Atlanta Science Festival beginning in March 2014. These different approaches to education and outreach are now being widely implemented; enriching and diversifying the ways we bring science to the public. These contributions have all grown from the powerful centrality of systems chemistry and chemical evolution as disciplines and their implications for the origins of self-organization and molecular complexity in physical and biological systems.

Last updated May 2014

Scientist Profile

HHMI Professor
Emory University
Chemical Biology