9 Jan 2019

First Year Chemistry Students doing Inorganic Research!

Submitted by Kari Stone, Benedictine University

Kyle Grice set us up recently with his post. He described how course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are gaining momentum in the chemistry community to replace traditional “cook-book” laboratory experiences. A CURE must follow five characteristics: use of scientific practices, discovery, broadly relevant to the larger scientific community, collaboration, and iteration. A key difference that a CURE offers in comparison to traditional chemistry laboratory curricula is that the “answer” is unknown to the instructor. We can all agree that an unknown result is what drives research chemists in the field. In short, this is the way science works!


A recent article that caught my eye in the Journal of Chemical Education authored by Wei Chen from Mount Holyoke College describes a 4-credit elective in the chemistry department “Introduction to Research.” This course is populated by first-year chemistry students for preparation to facilitate their entry into independent research with a faculty member. The course is structured in three units and centers on the chemistry of gold nanoparticles, drawing from interdisciplinary fields including environmental, pharmaceutical, and biochemistry. Unit 1 introduces the students to literature searching, writing, and presentation skills. This stage of the course allows students access to literature and to develop plans for a research project. In unit 2, students follow prescribed protocols for the syntheses of gold nanoparticles. This also allows them time to formulate a research question and design a research plan. Unit 3 was dedicated to actively delving into their research plans. The last unit also had an added dimension with faculty interviews of the students, which provided a greater impact on the student experience by requiring them to go outside of their comfort zones.


There has been a running discussion on implementing CUREs with an additional complication of running a CURE with first-year undergraduate students. This article describes one example of a course that is CURe. Some questions that I continue to ponder and I hope that you will continue in discussions in the teaching forum: Are you running a CURE? Are you running a CURE with first year chemistry students? Would you consider or are you currently running a CURE for first year students that are not chemistry or biochemistry majors?