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Stephen Testa

Research Interests:
Cognitive Psychology in Education
Nucleic Acid Structure and Function
chemical education
Eye Tracking Technology

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Rochester 1999

Doctorate in 'Biochemistry and Molecular Biology', Purdue University 1994

Bachelor of Science in 'Biochemistry and Biophysics', University of Houston 1990



Chemical Education (Active): Learning is not a simple process. How does one perceive information, formulate new knowledge, accommodate that new knowledge with prior knowledge, store and retain that knowledge, retrieve that knowledge, and then utilize it in some useful form? These processes are rarely effortless, perhaps especially so for students, as they are bombarded with new information, and dissimilar types of information, on a nearly daily basis. How do we, as educators, most effectively help these students learn? Much research and discussion, and new teaching approaches, have been devoted to trying to answer this very question. As yet, there are no simple answers, and there are unlikely to be. Learning is complex, and teaching students is complex. How can one best teach a classroom of students when those students favor different learning strategies, have different prior knowledge, and have different mental strengths and weaknesses? Current theories of effective education in STEM fields are centering around student-centered approaches to instruction, for example utilizing active learning, small group work, collaborative projects, flipped and hybrid classrooms, self-determination and metacognitive approaches, and a wide variety of strategies to coax students to be intrinsically motivated.

These approaches, more and more, are being informed by the many recent advances in educational psychology, particularly with regard to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. What students perceive, what and how they think, and their resultant feelings and behaviors can be correlated with positive and/or negative educational outcomes. As educators, we are tasked with harnessing and leveraging the positive, beneficial aspects of educational psychology, over the negative, non-beneficial (or even harmful) aspects. Yet, the vast majority of educators are not trained in even the most fundamental aspects of psychology, let alone that pertaining to education. How can we, then, bridge the content and behavioral divides between STEM instruction and educational psychology? The answers to these questions are important as we strive to increase the future prospects and the well-being of our students, and hence of our society as a whole.

My research interests lie in whether a ‘positive psychology’ approach to teaching will have a positive impact on student success and attitudes. Particular projects will be developed in conjunction with the academic interests of each student. However, each project will revolve around some aspect of chemical education and will include hypothesis development and scientific testing. Topics of particular interest include 1) the effects of affect (attitudes and emotions) on student enthusiasm for learning and understanding chemistry content and concepts, 2) the relationship between student enthusiasm and teaching approaches (e.g. flipped classrooms, active learning, cooperative learning), or 3) whether unconscious biases have a deleterious effect on students’ chemical intuition.

Please stop by my office in JSB 161-F anytime to discuss potential opportunities in chemical education research and for chemical education researchers.

Nucleic Acid Thermodynamics (Active): My lab studies the biophysical effects of cellular metabolites, potential drug compounds, and small molecule effectors on nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) structure and stability. Our principle experimental tool is temperature-dependent UV-Vis spectroscopy, although we utilize a variety of biochemical techniques, as needed. 
RNA Group I Introns (Inactive): My lab has developed novel RNA catalysts, based on autocatalytic RNA group I introns, which can recombine RNA in predetermined ways. Using this technology, our group has sequence-specifically repaired mutations in functional RNA transcripts. Questions that remain with this and other recently developed catalysts include how to develop them for effective cellular activity, how they fold and function, and how they can be exploited for the development of new biotechnologies. Methods used in these projects involve molecular biology (for example, PCR, cloning, site-directed mutagenesis, and gel electrophoresis).


Selected Publications:


  • Testa*, S.M., Selegue, J.P., French, A, and Criswell, B. (2018) "Permanganate Oxidation of DNA Nucleotides: An Introductory Redox Laboratory Framed as a Murder Mystery", Journal of Chemical Education, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00079.

  • Thomas, E. M. and Testa*, Stephen M (2017) "The colorimetric determination of selectively cleaved adenosines and guanosines in DNA oligomers using bichinchoninic acid and copper", Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry 22(1), 31-46.

  • Dotson, II, P. P., Hart, J., Noe, C., and Testa*, S. M. (2012) “Ribozyme-Mediated Trans Insertion-Splicing into Target RNAs” Ribozymes: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 848.

  • Hart, J. L., Harris, Z. M., and Testa*, S. M. (2010) “Analyzing and predicting the thermodynamic effects of the metabolite trehalose on nucleic acids”, Biopolymers, 93 (12) 1085-1092.

  • Dotson II, P. P., Sinha, J., and Testa*, S. M. (2008) “A Pneumocystis carinii group I intron-derived ribozyme utilizes an endogenous guanosine as the first reaction step nucleophile in the trans excision-splicing reaction”, Biochemistry 47, 4780-4787

  • Dotson II, P. P., Johnson, A. K., and Testa*, S. M. (2008) "Tetrahymena thermophila and Candida albicans Group I intron-derived ribozymes can catalyze the trans-excision-splicing reaction", Nucleic Acids Research, 36, 5281-5289.

  • Dotson II, P. P., Johnson, A. K., and Testa*, S. M. (2008) "Tetrahymena thermophila and Candida albicans Group I intron-derived ribozymes can catalyze the trans-excision-splicing reaction", Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
  • Dotson II, P. P., Sinha, J., and Testa*, S. M. (2008) “A Pneumocystis carinii group I intron-derived ribozyme utilizes an endogenous guanosine as the first reaction step nucleophile in the trans excision-splicing reaction”, FEBS Journal, 275 (12), 3110-3122.
  • Dotson II, P. P. Testa*, S. M. (2006) "Group I Intron-Derived Ribozyme Recombination Reactions" Recent Developments in Nucleic Acids Research, 2(2006): 307-324 ISBN: 81-7895-192-4.
  • Baum, D. A., Testa*, S. M. (2005) "In vivo excision of a single targeted nucleotide from an mRNA by a trans excision-splicing ribozyme", RNA 11, 897-905.
  • Johnson, A. K., Sinha, J., Testa*, S. M. (2005) "Ribozyme-Catalyzed Insertion of Targeted Sequences into RNAs", Biochemistry 44, 10702-10710.
  • Alexander, R. C., Baum, D. A., Testa*, S. M. (2005) "5' Transcript Replacement in vitro Catalyzed by a Group I Intron-Derived Ribozyme", Biochemistry 44, 1067-1077.
  • Bell, M. A., Sinha, J., Johnson, A. K., Testa*, S. M. (2004) "Enhancing the Second Step of the Trans Excision-Splicing Reaction of a Group I Ribozyme by Exploiting P9.0 and P10 for Intermolecular Recognition", Biochemistry 41, 15327-15333.
  • Disney, M. D., Testa, S. M., Turner, D. H. (2000) "Targeting a Pneumocystis carinii Group I Intron with Methylphosphonate Oligonucleotides: Backbone Charge is Not Required for Binding or Reactivity",Biochemistry 39, 6991-7000.  
  • Testa, S. M., Turner, D. H., Kierzek, R. (1999) "Thermodynamics of RNA-RNA Duplexes with 2- or 4-Thiouridines: Implications for Antisense Design and Targeting a Group I Intron", Biochemistry 38, 16655-16662.  
  • Testa, S. M, Gryaznov,  S. M., Turner, D. H. (1999) "In Vitro Suicide inhibition of self-splicing of a group I intron from Pneumocystis carinii by an N3'->P5' phosphoramidate hexanucleotide", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 96, 2734-2739.
  • Testa, S. M., Gryaznov,  S. M., Turner, D. H. (1998) "Antisense Binding Enhanced by Tertiary Interactions: Binding of Phosphorothioate and N3'-> P5' Phosphoramidate Hexanucleotides to the Catalytic Core of a Group I Ribozyme from the Mammalian Pathogen Pneumocystis carinii", Biochemistry 37, 9379-9385.
  • Testa, S. M. , Haidaris, C. G., Gigliotti, F., Turner, D. H. (1997) "A Pneumocystis carinii Group I Intron Ribozyme that Does Not Require 2' OH Groups on its 5' Exon Mimic for Binding to the Catalytic Core", Biochemistry 36, 15303-15314.  
  • Profenno, L., Kierzek, R., Testa, S. M., Turner, D. H. (1997) "Guanosine Binds to the Tetrahymena Ribozyme in More than One Step, and Its 2' OH and the Nonbridging pro-Sp Phosphoryl Oxygen at the Cleavage Site Are Required for Productive Docking", Biochemistry 36, 12477-12485.  
  • Testa, S. M, Gilham, P. T. (1993) "Analysis of Oligonucleotide Structure using Hyperchromism Measurements at Long Wavelengths", Nucleic Acids Res. 21, 3907-3908.