Creativity and Precision: Knitted Together
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For MNU professor Abby Hodges, there is a beautiful similarity between spinning her own yarn from sheep’s wool, and observing the science of the human body. She sees a common thread connecting the artistic focus of yarn-spinning and the folding of amino acids that are the building blocks of all life.
Abby Hodges is an associate professor of Chemistry in MNU’s Science and Math Department who earned her PhD from Yale University. She and her husband Ryan moved to Kansas from California last year with their 3-year-old and 4-year-old boys, Declan and Oliver.
When she isn’t teaching organic chemistry or biochemistry, Hodges enjoys camping trips with her family, cooking, brewing her own coffee and home. Hodges says she became interested in spinning her own wool because she feels like she needs to keep her hands busy.
“I bring my crotchet things with me everywhere,” she said as she talked about road trips and waiting rooms.
Hodges, who has patented her own modified miniature proteins, presented the similarity between crocheting and protein folding in her May 2015 7 x 7 speech at MNU’s Bell Cultural Events Center.
“This fascination with creating and studying protein strings just because they’re beautiful and functional has continued over into my scientific work as well,” she said. “Proteins fold into creative and precise structures to carry out the work of life…we just may be knitted together.”
Hodges said she sees great spiritual and social wisdom in the way proteins work inside the human body.
“While seeing how many things could go wrong could feel overwhelming, instead, studying protein folding has provided me with a sense of confidence and peace. The shear number, complexity and diversity of things that must go right in order for me to stand here and give this talk and for you to see and hear it is humbling.”
Faith and Science
Hodges is passionate about Christian higher education and recognizes the unique timing in the world of science; especially faith-based science. Hodges recognizes how knowledge can shed spiritual light on otherwise seemingly secular matters.
“What better time is there to be a part of [science]?” she asks. “There is a real need for people of faith in science. There are many important questions being asked and discussed.”
Hodges believes this is an era in which science and faith should be reconciled.
“In the past there have been distinct roles for both [science and church]. It’s sometimes easier to be a person of faith in a scientific setting than it is to be a scientist in a church. Sometimes, [those in church] don’t know what to do with us scientists. What we do is bring an understanding of God that has a different nuance than those who are non-scientists. Science allows us to see God as being reliable, creative and predictable.”
“It takes a little more time to see how faith integrates with this kind of topic,” Hodges said. “For me, it’s more about seeing the beauty in order; seeing the complexities that are universal in all the sciences.”
Working in the Field
Hodges believes both science and health fields attract those who are deeply interested in helping others. While a passion for serving is undoubtedly an asset, Hodges does caution students to be aware of the limits and realities of helping others in a scientific setting.
“You conduct the same work over and over again,” Hodges said. “And after all that work, you may or may not end up with a useable result. It requires a lot of patience.”
“It’s important for students to understand that everything in science is very expensive; every study has a cost. Those costs must be weighed. As professionals, they will have to make tough decisions about which costs are critical. The time and money spent on the possible cure for a disease is money and time not spent elsewhere. It’s my job to expose students to the idea that all decisions have a cost. They may want it to be a straight-forward decision, but the morality [of decisions] is not always so black-and-white.”
It’s the molding and honing of moral composure that Hodges says is truly important. That influence may come through the sharing of a scripture at the beginning of class, or the simple investment of time professors give to their students.
“I am very impressed with our teachers’ commitments to teaching students through the entire education process; they have such an interest in being part of [the students’ learning process] and using cutting edge techniques.”
For Hodges, the greatest satisfaction in teaching lies in the development of her students’ self-assurance and decision-making.
“I love the opportunity I have to watch students discover what they love,” she said. “I love watching them learn to excel. I like showing them the doors they have in front of them and to help them get there. I like watching students make mistakes in lab and from there, grow in their confidence. It’s fun to watch them become everything they can be.”