Chemistry part of HHMI grant to expand undergrad research experiences

By Nicole Casl Moore
Jun 24, 2014 Bookmark and Share

More than 3,700 additional U-M undergraduates will get real-world research experience over the next five years through a $1.5 million science, technology, engineering and math education grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Initially, the grant will let professors restructure the lab sections of two introductory science courses — Biology 173 and Chemistry 125/126. More courses will be involved in future years.

Beginning in fall 2015, the chemistry course will partner with Stephan Maldonado, associate professor of chemistry, on projects in solar power and batteries, and Kerri Pratt, assistant professor of chemistry, on projects in snow chemistry and climate change.

Rather than playing out textbook exercises, students in these classes will work with a U-M faculty research lab to design and carry out experiments that make new knowledge and could lead to published scholarship.

"We want students to see the whole process of discovery, from when we don't know the answer to when we get an answer. That's the real excitement of science," said Deborah Goldberg, the Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology who leads the program.

University leaders have learned through the 25-year-old Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program that exposing students to research early leads more of them to degrees in STEM fields.

"In the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, for example, we've found that more than half of the students who initially say they're interested in these fields don't go on to graduate in them," Goldberg said.

"As someone who cares deeply about liberal arts, I have to say that we're not trying to keep students from their passions. But we don't want to lose people because they weren't engaged in their introductory classes and therefore miss out on studies that they could be passionate about."

The new program will dramatically increase the number of students who are able to have research experiences. UROP, which individually pairs students with labs, served more than 1,400 students this year and involved hundreds of faculty members. But still, there's a waiting list, and it's hard to expand quickly, Goldberg said.

"Eventually, the grant from HHMI will allow us to engage a similar number of students each year, with the involvement of only eight faculty research groups," Goldberg said.

See the complete article at University Record online.