BITeS

10 Oct 2018

CUREs in Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory?

Submitted by Kyle Grice, DePaul University

Here on VIPEr, we share our LO’s with the community so that they can implement them in their classrooms and provide feedback. These LO’s are meant to be small pieces that can be dropped in to any course. We have recently been expanding our views, looking at whole classes (See the "Grand Experiment").

One relatively recent and course-scale pedagogical approach is the use of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). These are very different from standard laboratory experiences, and even from inquiry-based labs. The biggest difference is that in a CURE, the instructor provides expertise and some framework, but doesn’t know what “the answer” will be. Instead, students develop and carry out research projects that produce new knowledge, just like an independent research project. However, they do so collaboratively, and unlike regular labs, have opportunities to revise and reiterate their studies. In the end, the final results should be such that they could be included in a publication in a peer-reviewed journal, with the students as co-authors. This can be seen as a great example of the concept of “learn by doing”. Students learn about science research by actually doing it.

This approach has gained traction in various sciences, particularly in biology-related fields.  CUREnet is a network of people interested in CUREs, and has good resources on them as well as periodic workshops. There are also discussions in the biology literature on how to assess these classes (CBE-Life Sciences Education and American Society for Microbiology), as they are quite different from standard laboratory experiences. Professor David Lapatto at Grinnell College has also created an assessment tool for CUREs.

One recent article that caught our attention was a publication by Professor Rory Waterman from The University of Vermont in collaboration with Prof. Lapatto and co-authors from both institutions in the Journal of Chemical Education. In the article, the authors describe running an advanced Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory as a CURE. The instructors provided a framework for the students by having them explore the dehydrogenation of ammonia borane (NH3BH3), but left the development of the catalysts to use up to the class. The students worked in groups to decide on the general protocols for catalysis, and decided on a ligand and metal to explore for the creation of the catalyst. The students performed the synthesis and characterization of the complexes, as well as catalysis and relevant control experiments. Students gave presentations and wrote final reports. Overall, this experience appeared to be very successful. In fact, the results of the CURE research from the class were not reported in the J. Chem. Ed. article, because they are being complied for publication elsewhere.

This approach is something others in the inorganic chemistry community may want to implement. Have you run a CURE? What went well? What didn’t work? Are you curious about creating and running a CURE? We’ve created a thread in the teaching forum to discuss!