Submitted by Anthony L. Fernandez / Merrimack College on Fri, 07/06/2018 - 11:29
My Notes

When teaching my advanced bioinorganic chemistry course, I extensively incorporate structures from Protein Data Bank in both my assignments and classroom discussions and mini-lectures. I also have students access structures both in and out of class as they complete assignments.


I expect my students to use this site to obtain information for their assignments and presentations. This activity is a self-paced introduction to the site that my students complete outside of class. This activity has students use the site to obtain information about metal coordination environments, the common geometries adopted by metals in biological environments, and the common ligands that are used to bind metals.

Learning Goals

After completing this exercise, students should be able to:

  • access the MetalPDB site,

  • obtain statistics pertaining to the number of metal-containing structures in the PDB,

  • determine the most common geometry observed for a particular metal in a biological structure,

  • identify the most common ligands attached to the metal when bound in a biological macromolecule, and

  • find information such as the function of, the coordination geometry of, and the coordinated ligands bound to a metal ion in a specific structure from the PDB.

Equipment needs

Students need access to the internet and a web browser that is capable of running JavaScript and JSmol. This site is accessible on devices running iOS, but the layout of the site works better on a laptop screen.

Implementation Notes

I used the MetalPDB site for the first time in my Bioinorganic Chemistry course during the Spring 2018 semester. I routinely use the PDB to access structures of metal-containing biological macromolecules in both my advanced and foundation-level courses, but it can be very hard to find structures wth specific metals. I used this site to find structures that I could use as examples in class.


I also have students use the site to get background information about metal geometry and common ligands for their assignments and presentations. I ask them to complete this activity outside of class. I usually distribute this as a Google Doc to my students (through Google Classroom) so that I have access to all of their responses.


For several of the questions/groups of questions, I assign individual members of the class specific geometries (question #5), metals (questions #6-9), or PDB structures (questions #11-13) and we pool their answers in class. We then spend about 30-45 minutes in class discussing the results and search for commonalities and connections to other structures that we have already discussed in class.

Time Required
1-2 hours (outside of class by student); 30-45 minutes in class (including discussion of related topics)


Evaluation Methods

I reviewed student answers to this assignment and evaluated their contributions to the discussion that took place. I also tried to keep track of how much they used information obtained from this site during their literature presentations.

Evaluation Results

This assignment is quite straightforward and the 6 of 8 students who completed the assignment had little trouble coming up with correct answers for all of the questions.


At the end of the semester, each student had to give two presentations on bioinorganic topics. They were expected to discuss the metal coordination environment and how "normal" it was, as well as the possibility of substituting another metal into the coordination sphere. One student used information from the MetalPDB in both of her presentations, three students used information in one of their presentations, and four students did not include information from the site in either presentation.


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