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Award Abstract #1044737

An Integrated, Instrument Intensive Project-Based Biochemistry Laboratory for Enhanced Student Learning and Research

Division Of Undergraduate Education
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Initial Amendment Date: September 6, 2011
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Latest Amendment Date: September 6, 2011
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Award Number: 1044737
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Award Instrument: Standard Grant
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Program Manager: Dawn Rickey
DUE Division Of Undergraduate Education
EHR Direct For Education and Human Resources
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Start Date: September 1, 2011
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End Date: December 31, 2013 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $199,846.00
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Investigator(s): Todd Silverstein tsilvers@willamette.edu (Principal Investigator)
Sarah Kirk (Co-Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem, OR 97301-3930 (503)370-6617
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TUES-Type 1 Project
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Program Reference Code(s): 9178, SMET
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Program Element Code(s): 1536, 7513


This project is developing an innovative year-long laboratory course that integrates Instrumental Analysis with the Biochemistry Laboratory. Students are exposed to three of the four major classes of biomolecules and are introduced to many key methods in instrumental analysis. A portion of the second semester is dedicated to an extended project centered on a single biomolecule, tRNAPhe. A crucial component of this project is the multidisciplinary approach to the design; participating faculty come from all major subdisciplines of chemistry (analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, and biochemistry). Furthermore, students are taught in a progressive instructional style that allows them to develop as research scientists. From initial skill-based laboratories to the eventual design of their own experiments, students gain skills in critical thinking and scientific reasoning that allow them to solve problems encountered later in the course and prepare them for independent biochemical senior research projects. The effort is supported by the acquisition of several spectrophotometers, a fluorimeter, and an HPLC autosampler, equipment that also enriches the undergraduate research program at the institution. Within each semester, student learning is assessed through four phases: (1) skill-based learning where students are introduced to new instruments; (2) discovery-based learning where students apply instrumental methods to answer intriguing questions in biochemistry; (3) problem-based learning where students design and implement their own experiments; and (4) scientific communication where students share their knowledge of scientific concepts in the form of oral and written reports.

Intellectual Merit: This project seeks to strengthen STEM education through the immersion and assessment of students in an Integrated Experimental Biochemistry Laboratory. Access to modern instrumentation, as well as training in critical thinking and project design, prepares students to fully engage in faculty-mentored undergraduate research. This program has several key assets. First, pedagogy is based on proven methods of teaching. Second, it draws on the combined expertise of the entire faculty in the chemistry department and provides students with a truly multidisciplinary approach. Third, biochemistry students are exposed to a broad range of instrumentation that reflects this multidisciplinary approach. Fourth, students are given opportunities throughout the laboratory to communicate experimental results and engage in team learning exercises to shape and focus open-ended experiments.

Broader Impacts: The project is designed to serve as a model for integrated biochemistry laboratories and is adaptable at a wide range of universities that offer a biochemistry major or track. The integrated nature of this project lends itself as well to fostering collaboration with biology programs. Through this project the institution is broadening and sustaining STEM education in four areas: (1) A partnership with chemistry faculty at Chemeketa Community College provides a diverse student population access to discovery-based, instrument-rich laboratory experiments and thereby facilitates the transition of students into four year colleges like Willamette. (2) To better prepare undergraduate chemists for STEM careers and graduate programs in chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical biology, research scientists from Life Technologies/Invitrogen Corporation are serving as external consultants. These consultants are assisting in the improvement of the experimental protocols, instrument usage and data analysis. (3) To facilitate adaptation of the model and materials by other colleges and universities, a regional faculty workshop is being offered through the Willamette Valley Biological Education Network, an NSF-funded biological education network (RCN DBI-1039453). (4) Finally, the project results are being disseminated at regional and national ACS conferences and through publications in the Journal of Chemical Education and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. Web-based media are being used to further disseminate the curriculum, resources and evaluation reports.


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Eickelberg, G. J. and Fisher, A. J.. "Environmental regulation of plant gene expression: An RT-qPCR laboratory project for an upper-level undergraduate biochemistry or molecular biology course," Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, v.43, 2013, p. 325. 

David E. Goodney and Todd P. Silverstein. "Using the tyrosinase-based biosensor to determine the concentration of phenolics in wine," Journal of Chemical Education, v.90, 2013, p. 1710. 


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