Modernizing the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory: The Design and Implementation of a Modular Protein-Centered Course

Abstract

Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) integrate authentic research into undergraduate chemistry laboratories, introducing students to research while simultaneously reinforcing fundamental concepts. Despite their ubiquitous nature in bioanalytical research, few CUREs have been published applying the fundamental techniques of separations, spectroscopy, quantification, and mass spectrometry. To engage students in learning these increasingly essential bioanalytical techniques, we designed and implemented a semester-long project-based course centered around the purification, quantification, and identification of heterologously expressed proteins in five succinct and adaptable modules. Instructors can use these modules to form the foundation of a CURE specific to their research interests. The extensive commercial availability of plasmids for transformation combined with the modular approach to laboratory experiments enables convenient customization to accommodate diverse research goals. Instructors can tailor the modules to meet the curricular requirements and instrumentation capabilities of their institutions and can easily extend the research goals to incorporate more specialized analytical techniques, as needed. Through the implementation of the five modules, students apply the fundaments of acid–base chemistry, statistics, quantification strategies, spectrophotometry, separations, and mass spectrometry, thus covering the material required in most undergraduate introductory analytical courses. Instructors can then use these modules as a backbone to support student-led discovery-based investigations for the remainder of the course. Students demonstrate their understanding through the completion of a comprehensive, publication-style laboratory report as well as a poster presentation at a university-wide undergraduate research symposium. Since first offering this course in 2016, student evaluations have been exceedingly positive, with over 75% of students indicating that the course both increased their scientific skills as well as their confidence in their ability to succeed in further science courses. Furthermore, 22% of students reported they were “much more” or “extremely more” likely to enroll in a Ph.D. program in science, math, or engineering following the courses, emphasizing the impact that project-based laboratories can have on undergraduate chemists’ career trajectories.

Citation

Modernizing the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory: The Design and Implementation of a Modular Protein-Centered Course
Amanda L. Smythers, Megan M. Ford, Dakota G. Hawkins, Megan C. Connor, Kylie C. Lawrence, Caroline R. Stanton, Alton C. Gayton, and Leslie M. Hicks
Journal of Chemical Education 2021 98 (5), 1645-1652
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c01269