Mercer University was recently awarded a grant of $174,574 from The National Science Foundation to benefit the University’s Chemistry Department and improve the undergraduate chemistry lab experience. The funds will primarily provide six students the opportunity to work as researchers using the studio lab approach.
The National Science Foundation awarded the grant to the department through its program Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, and Engineering and Mathematics. Chemistry Professors Dr. Dale Moore, Dr. David Goode, and Dr. Caryn Seney will lead the project. The two-year grant is titled, “Going Further: An Integrative Approach to a more Research Oriented, Exploratory Junior-Level Lab.”
“What we hope to accomplish through this grant is a collaborative in-depth exploratory junior level laboratory plan that in its primary emphasis acts as our junior-level chain of engagement for recruitment and retention of students and in its secondary emphasis as an opportunity to facilitate such interactions at other primarily undergraduate institutions,” said Dr. Seney. “The impetus for running the laboratories in this way is to have a guided inquiry that will further prepare students to perform research independently. Thus, faculty members scheduled to teach this laboratory mentor the students by giving them a springboard research/lab idea with some background information in order to facilitate an initial start on the student laboratory project.”
The funds will be used for a variety of projects including new instruments for the junior-level Exploratory Laboratory classes (CHM 371 and CHM 372) in addition to instruments within the research laboratories and classes. Specific instruments include: an Isothermal Titration Calorimetry (ITC) Instrument, a microplate Spectrophotometer, a refrigerated Centrifuge and a Shaking Incubator.
“We want to incorporate one in-depth student laboratory project per project mentor, strengthening not only the mentor-mentee relationship but also the peer group interactions, while also allowing the students to go further in their exploration,” said Dr. Seney. “This process should lead to a more confident research-independent student with strong communication skills because they were able to see a full student laboratory project to completion inside the structure of a peer group.”
The grant will also aid in funding summer research students, including their stipend and housing costs in addition to faculty salaries to work with the summer research students.
Also configured into the grant plans include travel costs for the department to attend regional and national conferences and a consultant to evaluate and assess what the department will be doing within the studio-style laboratory.
“This grant provides the opportunity to increase the department’s instrumentation holdings and allows students the access to the ITC to address challenging interdisciplinary questions,” said Dr. Kevin Bucholtz, associate professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and director of undergraduate research.
“The ITC is a state of the instrumentation that is usually only seen at larger research-focused institutions, but students at Mercer will get to use it as part of their undergraduate experience. For students participating in undergraduate research, these types of grants enrich the research environment and allow for deeper and more cutting edge research to be conducted.”
“All of the research projects have utility in the real world,” Dr. Seney said. “Our students will learn a holistic approach to research as a result of this award.”