Here we present a brief anthology of selected reports produced in a problem-based learning (PBL) course required of medical students in their first year of studies at Juntendo University. None of the reports selected for this anthology deal with medical issues per se, but rather reflect the abilities of students in their first attempts to delve into a new subject and engage in teamwork with fellow students to explore an unfamiliar subject and produce a coherent report on their findings.
Why would this be a useful exercise? After all, there is such a huge body of knowledge and clinical procedures that medical students are expected to absorb over just a few short years. How can we justify time spent on subjects not directly relevant to the practice of medicine or its scientific foundations?
The answer is that we must prepare students for lifelong careers that will involve teamwork and continuous learning. Some of our international readers also need to know that in Japan, students enter medical school straight out of high school. Almost none have experience with self-driven research, as would be required to write an undergraduate term paper in the US. Moreover, while the students often bring valuable teamwork experiences from their club activities in high school (such as in sports or music), teamwork experience in more serious pursuits is frequently lacking. Yet, they will soon be tasked with teamwork aimed at ensuring high quality care for their patients. While the knowledge and skills they are taught during their six years of medical school are important, over the course of their careers their abilities will depend even more on their own active efforts to remain current with medical advances and to improve their skills. Equally important, their patients’ outcomes will depend on their abilities as doctors to cooperate and communicate effectively with other caregivers and administrators.
After 12 years spent passively learning materials selected by their teachers, and with a few more years of similar studies yet ahead of them, it is time for the students to take their first steps in setting their own tasks and learning goals.
In 2015, 14 PBL themes were offered, and within each theme, the students divided themselves into groups of two to four students centered around specific topics, often in the form of a question, chosen or even proposed by the students themselves. The PBLs themselves were conducted over the course of 5 days in early September before the start of the regular fall semester. While the fourteen themes offered included a number centered around the natural sciences, mathematics and medical issues as detailed in the table, the reports included here were all selected from the PBLs tutored by faculty members of the General Education English section, and hence written originally by the students in English. We were quite encouraged by the efforts the students put into their reports, and particularly proud of the four reports below.
Clay minerals are believed to play an important role in the origin of life. Bio-molecules initially formed in the shallow ocean could be adsorbed by clay minerals (e.g. montmorillonite) and/or intercalated between their interlayers, thereby protected from damage by cosmic ray and UV irradiation. The mineral particles could sink to the ocean floor and release bio-molecules under basic pH condition, such as near a highly basic hydrothermal vent. The mineral particles also serve as the location and catalyst for the polymerization of these bio-molecules, which is a crucial step in chemical evolution. As a model system, we experimentally investigated the adsorption and desorption of adenine on montmorillonite. Adsorption at pH 2.5 was found to be much larger than at pH 8.5. Since adenine is positively charged in the acidic condition, it is readily adsorbed by montmorillonite and/or intercalated into its interlayers. It was difficult to remove adenine from the interlayer, as it does not desorb in neutral or acidic (HCl) solutions. In a basic solution adenine is charge neutral, and the amount of its adsorption by montmorillonite at pH 8.5 is very small. Meanwhile, at pH 8.5, adenine in the montmorillonite interlayers is readily replaced by Na+ in the solution, and therefore desorbs easily. pH value clearly affects the adsorption/desorption behavior of adenine on/from montmorillonite.