When the Center for BioMolecular Modeling (CBM) was formed in the late 1990s, its mission was two-fold: first, to create physical models of molecular structures for use in science classrooms; and second, to put those models in the hands of students to enhance their learning.
Under the guidance of Dr. Tim Herman, director, the first objective was quickly accomplished: the CBM partnered with MSOE’s Rapid Prototyping Center to create 3D models using additive manufacturing technology. The CBM’s sister organization, the for-profit business 3D Molecular Designs, handles the increased demand for models and creates other teaching tools.
Achieving the second objective – connecting students with models – required a multipronged approach. CBM programs and teacher workshops that occurred throughout the year were one solution, but Herman had a bigger vision. “I wanted to develop a mechanism for disseminating the models and associated materials to classrooms,” he said.
The idea led Herman to Gary Shimek, director of MSOE’s Walter Schroeder Library. Together, Shimek and Herman developed the idea of the “model lending library,” employing interlibrary loan principles and practices to lend physical models to users. The MSOE Model Lending Library was officially launched in September of 2003. During the 2003-04 academic year, it had 41 loans, with the number increasing in subsequent years. In 2015-16, the library facilitated more than 250 loans, reaching students of all grade levels in locations across the country.
“We have loaned models to every state in the country,” Shimek said. “From Washington State to Florida and California to Maine.” Models have even been shipped to Hawaii and Alaska.
“One reason the model lending library is so popular is the CBM promotes its use to teachers at regional and national meetings of science educators,” said Hermann. CBM staff travel to eight major meetings each year where they present hour-long workshops showing teachers ways to incorporate the use of models in their classrooms. The library is also promoted by 3DMD, which exhibits models at these meeting.
The MSOE Model Lending Library currently has 22 types of models—with multiple copies—available, including the Amino Acid Starter Kit, the DNA Collection, Introduction to Protein Structures and the Molecules of Life. The collection also includes about 80 individual model kits. Over the years, models have come and gone to meet the changing demands of the science classroom.
The lending library stays busy with models on loan just about every week of the year, including summer and often over holidays, Shimek said. Loans are primarily made to universities, colleges and high schools; however, models have also been loaned to middle schools, museums—the Boston Museum of Science, for example—and medical schools, including Penn State and the University of Mississippi.
When shipping, each model kit is placed in a durable container along with lesson plans and handouts. After models are returned to MSOE, they are examined by CBM personnel and repaired, if necessary.
Over the years, library personnel have worked to make the model lending system more user-friendly and efficient. Last fall, staff members beta-tested and ultimately implemented a new system to streamline the model loaning process. Users are now able to reserve models online and check the loan schedule for model availability.
“I regularly borrow models from the CBM’s Lending Library for students to use during class and labs,” said Dr. Anne Alexander, who teaches in MSOE’s Physics and Chemistry Department. “The models offer a hands-on interactive way for students to learn about molecular-scale chemistry and biology.”
On average, 20 percent of the loans are to educators in Wisconsin, Shimek said. The other 80 percent are out of state. “It’s a superb outreach opportunity,” he said. “As an academic library, we are deeply concerned with contributing to student learning at MSOE and the CBM partnership helps us to extend the mission. We are proud to be a part of a collaboration to increase scientific and technical literacy.”