Society & Culture

Student, faculty collaboration at UGA produces new interactive book for cell biology

IS3D iBook “Cell Membrane Transport” cover-v.cover
Cell Membrane Transport

Athens, Ga. – Understanding how cells transport ions and molecules is a foundational part of cell biology, but students often have trouble mastering the underlying concepts because traditional textbooks do not adequately convey the dynamic world of cells.

A collaboration between University of Georgia professors, undergraduates and a growing UGA startup company aims to address this issue with the release of a new iBook “Cell Membrane Transport.”

“When we make a new product, we always ask teachers which subjects their students struggle to understand, and membrane transporters was at the top of their list,” said Tom Robertson, an associate professor of physiology and pharmacology in the College of Veterinary Medicine who leads the IS3D team. “The great thing about the latest product is that we had two undergraduates involved—the faculty set the framework for the book, but it was the undergrads who worked with our artists to create most of the content.”

The startup company, IS3D LLC (, is a partnership of seven UGA faculty and staff members that will re-brand as Cogent Education this summer and is funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. Three of the founders from the College of Veterinary Medicine—Robertson; Jim Moore, a professor of large animal medicine; and Scott Brown, a professor of small animal medicine—led the writing team for the new iBook.

The two UGA students—Sean Durkin and Spencer Grimm—became involved with the project after attending a presentation by Robertson to the UGA Student Entrepreneurship club this past fall.

“Dr. Robertson’s approach to science education, using animations and interactive case studies, blew me away,” said Durkin, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in both cellular biology and biology with an emphasis in neuroscience. “After hearing their mission and seeing their work, I knew immediately this was something in which I wanted to be involved.”

Grimm also graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in genetics and biology.

“When Dr. Robertson presented one of IS3D’s interactive case studies to the UGA entrepreneur’s club, I was immediately struck with optimism for the future of science education,” he said. “I told him that I would love to be involved in any way, shape or form, but Dr. Robertson didn’t bring me in to make coffee and do the dirty work. Instead, he empowered me to be deeply involved in scientific debates and the creative process, believing that my perspective as a student was valuable. The iBook is the most meaningful project I have ever worked on, and the experience has raised my expectations for my ability to impact the world around me.”

The iBook is the second in a suite of complementary materials to help students learn about how the nervous system works. Released on Apple’s iTunes Textbook store ( for the iPad ($2.99), “Cell Membrane Transport” includes new interactive elements such as rotatable 3D animations. The lead artist on the project is Renee Stander, who holds a bachelor’s degree in dramatic media from UGA.

“In general, I was always really frustrated using textbooks in school, especially in science classes,” Stander said. “I found it really hard to learn from a textbook about cell processes that involve things moving and changing shape.”

IS3D currently employs nine UGA graduates as full-time staff and has five UGA student interns.

“Creating jobs in science education in our local community has been the best part of the project so far, and we’re hoping to create a lot more,” Robertson said. “Having UGA students and graduate students involved is great as they know firsthand just how frustrating current educational materials are to use, and it’s been many years since I was a student.”

The iBook production was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health through a Small Business Innovative Research grant, number 5R43MH096675, awarded to IS3D LLC on “Stimulating Young Neuroscientists And Physiologists in Science Education (SYNAPSE).”