Episode #118: Unlocking the True Potential in Kids with Dr. Daniel Fried

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Dr. Daniel Fried is Assistant Professor in Chemistry at Saint Peters University, has developed new methods and content for chemistry education in K-12 that incorporates pedagogies from Daniel’s background in music and art. It’s very visual, tactile, and kids learn the concepts in a way that mirrors how students learn musical instruments.
Your Background
I grew up in Kingston, New York, and attended SUNY Binghamton as a Biochemistry major. I then completed my MS and Ph.D. in Chemistry at Yale University, where I worked in the laboratory of Alanna Schepartz and helped develop technology for fluorescent sensing of protein folded state. I then completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Ed Bayer at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where I worked on a green energy project involving bacterial enzymes. I’m now an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City. I’ve worked extensively to develop a methodology to bring high-level chemistry and biochemistry to kids.
What was it like for you as a student?
I was involved in music, art, and science as a kid. I was always torn about what career to pursue. I had great teachers in school, but as a child of two elementary school teachers, I had a tendency to analyze the curriculum I was using, as well as school culture itself. I always had the feeling that I wanted to create my own school someday but wasn’t totally sure what would be special about it. 
What or who inspired you to focus on Chemistry?
I stumbled on chemistry while taking Organic Chemistry over the summer in college. I loved how the subject finally gave explanations about how living matter is put together and how it reacts. I started taking more courses in organic and biochemistry because I wanted to know how everything in the biological world was structured!
Can you tell me more about your research on engineering protein and enzymes?
During graduate school, I helped develop a technology that used fluorescent dyes to monitor the folded state of proteins. This technology could be applied to the study of all kinds of problems in medical research where protein folding issues are involved. During my postdoc, I worked on the cellulosome, which is a very large bacterial enzyme complex that is involved in the digestion of cellulose, the main component of plant fiber. Cellulosomes digest fiber and release sugar, which could be fermented to produce liquid fuel. The research, therefore, relates to the development of renewable energy solutions.
Why did you want to develop content for chemistry education for K-12?
At the end of graduate school, and with a Ph.D. in chemistry, I felt that I had a birdseye view of the subjects of chemistry and biochemistry, and wanted to go back to fill in the gaps and try my hand at revolutionizing the subject for early learners. I didn’t want other kids to get stuck the way I did. I also wanted to show that kids have an untapped potential that wasn’t acknowledged with the standard approaches to learning that I experienced as a kid. I didn’t think that kids should have to wait until they were adults to find out about biochemistry. I wanted to see if kids could learn it from an early age.