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September 7, 1998

High school teacher and UCSC grad pens second paper for scientific journal

By Tim Stephens

Careful readers of a certain paper in the July 13 issue of the scientific journal Biophysical Chemistry would have noticed something unusual: The line where the author's affiliation appears did not read "University of..." or "Institute of..."; it read "Santa Cruz High School."

The author is Dave Ptak, a graduate of UCSC and a chemistry teacher at SCHS. The paper, entitled "Rigid-body oscillations of [alpha]-helices: Implications for protein thermal stability," was Ptak's second publication in an international, peer-reviewed scientific journal in two years.

To publish such a paper without the support of an academic research institution is quite an accomplishment. Ptak, who pursues research in theoretical chemistry in his spare time, said he hopes his achievements will help change public perceptions of high school teachers.

"This second publication within two years demonstrates that the first one was not a fluke," said Ptak, who has worked for Santa Cruz city schools since 1977 and at SCHS since 1986.

Both papers address the issue of protein stability using mathematical models. In the most recent paper, Ptak describes factors that stabilize a protein against heat. Heat-stable proteins derived from organisms that live in high temperatures (e.g., hot springs) are extremely important in biotechnology and other industries. Ptak's model also has implications for the interaction of proteins with microwave energy.

Ptak received his M.S. in chemistry from UCSC in 1992. In addition to his two single-author papers on the theory of protein stability, Ptak has coauthored three scientific papers and is the sole author of one paper on mathematics education.

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