University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group


UMD PERG PhD Dissertations:
Deborah Hemingway

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Deborah Hemingway, Doctor of Philosophy, 2018

Dissertation directed by: Profs. Wolfgang Losert and Edward Redish, Dept. of Physics


This dissertation pulls from the fields of physics, biology, and education to address novel problems both in current biological research on collective cell migration and in a reformed introductory physics for life science (IPLS) course. In collective cell migration, cells communicate with each other via a number of means including via signaling pathways. In developing zebrafish, a select group of cells called the posterior lateral line primordium (pLLp) is known to communication with each other via two types of signaling pathways, Wnt and Fgf. In this work, we examine another signaling pathway, BMP, to gain insight into its role in the migratory behavior of the pLLp. My results demonstrate that BMP signaling is vital to successful migration and show that BMP affects the cohesiveness (cell-cell adhesions), directionality (direction of migration), and migratory speed of the cells in the pLLp. These results and insight were obtained through both modeling the biological system and utilizing concepts and analytical tools prevalent in physics. As part of the continuing reforms for the IPLS courses at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) I proposed and developed a novel methodology for curriculum development that is based on my own experimental biophysics research on collective cell migration. As a researcher, I used the tools and principles of physics to gain insight in the biological system and in parallel, I propose that “crossdisciplinary authenticity” is achieved when the tools and principles of one discipline are utilized to gain insight into a secondary discipline. I outline the methodology for achieving such, include an example problem set that is based on my research, and discuss the results from the deployment of the problem set in the IPLS course.

Thesis in PDF format.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Background
  3. The Effects of BMP Signal Inhibition in the Posterior Lateral Line Primordium Migration in Zebrafish
  4. Achieving Cross-disciplinary Authenticity in Physics for the Life Sciences
  5. Description of the Laplace Pressure Problem Set
  6. Collection and Evaluation of Student, Peer, and Colleague Response in Iterative Design Process
  7. How an Educator Characterizes Scientific Domains and Disciplinary Relationships
  8. Conclusion

Appendix A: Laplace Pressure lessons


  1. Interview protocols
  2. List of epistemic games
  3. Codebook for ontological metaphors for equations
  4. Math Epistemic Games survey
  5. MEGS test administrations

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