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Learning Science by Doing Science:  Undergraduate Research in Chemistry

In her February 22, 2011 Scientific American “Observations” blog posting Schools Should Teach Kids More About How Science Is Done, Scientific American editor Anna Kuchment recounted the theme of a symposium on STEM education featured at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The take home message? Science educators at both the high school and undergraduate levels too often don’t allow students to experience the “messiness” of the scientific process.  “An overemphasis on rote learning and an under-emphasis on critical thinking yield students who lack an interest in science,” states Kuchment.  It is far better to let students see the stops and starts, and the circuitous routes scientific research usually takes leading up to that interesting discovery or breakthrough.  Science isn’t always a linear process.

At Keene State College, undergraduates have opportunities throughout the curriculum to learn science by doing science—and this is just the kind of high impact practice that truly engages students in the process of discovery and creates critical thinkers. Take, for instance, the students working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. James Kraly. His Fall 2010 CHEM 251 students completed the first round of chemical analyses to answer a real-world question that has very much been in the news with the controversy surrounding Four Loko caffeinated beverage products…

KSC Chemistry Students, James Hendrickx & Christopher Bolsch

So how much caffeine really IS in that energy drink?

(Click above for Results!)

Dr. Kraly’s students used capillary electrophoresis (CE) to find out.  Like most real-world science, the outcomes of the experiments conducted by the students were not always straight forward, leading them to consider other factors besides simply focusing on caffeine, and have led to more interesting research questions to tackle.  Now, in Spring Semester 2011, students are following up with independent study projects building upon and extending that initial work—experiencing just the kind of messy, dynamic process that would face them as future scientists!


Updated: April 26, 2011 KSC Photos on SmugMug Subscribe to the KSC RSS news feed Keene State on Facebook Keene State on Twitter Keene State on YouTube

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