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KCNMA1-linked channelopathy | Master's Research

the project

the details

The aim of the study is to find out if a specific visual style of representing molecular structures ("realistic" VS "schematic") in animations,  proves to be educationally more beneficial than the other.


The deliverables for this project are two versions of the of the same animation, one with a realistic representation of its elements and one with more schematic representations. The animations are otherwise identical, sharing the same content, narration, music and sound effects, so that only the impact of the visual style in the learning process is tested.

Audience: People with basic biology knowledge

Software: VMD, ZBrush, 3ds Max, tyFlow, VRay, After  Effects, Red Giant Trapcode Particular, Audacity

Format: 3D animation

Content Expert: Dr. Andrea Meredith, Professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine

Advisor: Dr. Isabel Romero Calvo (UIC)

Committee members: Dr. Evelyn Maizels,

Rex Twedt


One of the current challenges in teaching molecular biology is the way it is visualized. However, there is little literature regarding the educational impact of different animation visual styles on biomedical students so that we can direct the production of visual aids towards their visual needs.


KCNMA1-linked channelopathy is a rare disease affecting less than 1 in 100,000 people. KCNMA1 gene encodes a protein participating in the large conductance voltage- and calcium-activated potassium channels also known as BK (for Big K+) channels. Parents of children carrying rare diseases are a special population as they usually take the roles of the expert caregiver and care coordinator, roles that often bring with them a need for scientific knowledge. However, their visual needs are highly understudied as well.


KCNMA1-linked channelopathy provides an opportunity to understand how different molecule representation styles affect the educational outcome of a complex molecular biology topic in such  populations. Having this knowledge will allow for better decision-making in the design process of future animations which aim to educate people with a basic science knowledge.



Working closely with my content expert, Dr. Meredith, we established learning goals and  developed a script that was revised multiple times based on feedback from Dr. Meredith  and my committee members.

Similarly to the script, the storyboard underwent a few iterations to perfectly match the style and the flow of the story. A particular challenge of this project was to achieve the fine balance of being scientific without getting into a lot of molecular details.  


After the pre-production work was done, I started creating all my 3D assets for the animation. Then, I aligned the KCNMA1 channel in the membrane.

To create the schematic representation of KCNMA1 channel, I modelled an abstract shape in ZBrush following the form of its subunits.