Undergraduate Chemical Research -- A Unique Learning Experience for Students


The importance of undergraduate research was first addressed in the in early 1930s.Since that time, many universities and colleges have developed undergraduate research programs. Based on updated reports, 4-7 undergraduate research has grown exponentially over the last decade. I strongly believe that undergraduate research is a unique learning experience for our undergraduate students. It can often play the pivotal role for an undergraduate student to choose chemistry as their future profession. Several researchers with extensive undergraduate research experience have already clearly described the crucial effect of undergraduate research to students in their development of problem solving, critical thinking and chemistry knowledge. 4, 8-19 Undergraduate research is truly an active learning process for the students since they apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to a real research project. in addition, the students expand their knowledge during the research process because some of the knowledge they need in research is not learned from their normal classes. This is especially true for my students. My primary research is the development of new instrumentation and procedures for bio-analysis of DNAs, proteins, peptides, amino acids, small molecules, cancer markers, and other biological compounds. These methods commonly employ high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), high performance thin layer chromatography (HPTLC), and high performance capillary electrophoresis (HPCE). I have focused on pre-cancer screening for the past two years and will continue this research project for the years to come. Pre-cancer screening at the single-molecule level is my eventual goal. Students entering my research group are typically sophomores with essentially no knowledge and experience in capillary electrophoresis. Some of them have never heard of capillary electrophoresis. They have to learn from zero. They have to read relevant material that I provide for them and they have to perform a literature search to determine the status of their research projects. What a challenge! It is very important that they know how to perform literature searches at the library or online. in this way, they will determine what has and has not been done in their area of interest. Based on my experience directing undergraduate research at Truman State University for the past ten years, the students involved in research are easily developed into logical thinkers. Students in research always need to ask themselves several questions: Why is this happening? Is this the result I want? Is this better or worse than before? What can I do to make it better? Since they have to solve all the problems encountered during the research project, they will gradually become problem solvers. I call this, #going##through##the##frustration##period.# to promote undergraduate chemical research, financial support and dissemination opportunities are critically important. Funding is needed for student salaries, supplies, and modem equipment so they can perform meaningful research. in order to encourage undergraduate research, many universities have established internal grants to fund undergraduate research projects. in addition, national funding agencies have also set aside funds especially for undergraduate institutions, such as the Research for Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) and the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) from the National Science Foundation, and Research Corporation. of course, faculty can apply for other grants too, such as the AREA grant from NIH, the PRF grant administered by ACS, and so on. Truman State University has offered internal research grants for over ten years, which greatly stimulates the growth of undergraduate research at Truman. as I stated above, the other factor to encourage undergraduate research is opportunities for our students to present their research results. in many cases, the results from our students are not significant enough to be presented at national or international conferences. However, students get very excited when they have an opportunity to present their findings or results in special mediums for undergraduates. in addition, students also learn from each other during the conference as they discuss their results and ideas with their peers. Currently, several good local and national mediums are available for our undergraduate students to present their research, such as the Missouri Academy of Science (MAS), the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), the Argonne Undergraduate Research Symposium, the Pittsburgh Conference, and so on. in addition, Truman State University has its own undergraduate research symposium each spring. We all should utilize these media and encourage our students to share their research results with others.



Keywords and Phrases

Chemistry -- research; College students; Learning; Students

Document Type

Article - Journal

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© 2006 University of Central Missouri, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Jan 2006

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