Faculty Members Earn $182,000-plus from NSF for Chemistry Lab Curriculum

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Monica Baloga, Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor of chemistry, and Kurt Winkelmann, co-principal investigator and associate professor, have earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of $182,588 for a general chemistry laboratory curriculum. Their project is titled “Introducing Research-inspired Modules in the General Chemistry Lab Curriculum.”

General chemistry, a core course taken by most science and engineering freshman students as a requirement for their major, is not appreciated by many students as relevant to their fields of study. A way to form a connection is to use interdisciplinary research-inspired modules in the general chemistry laboratory.

“Although integrating active research into teaching lab courses is not a new concept, the innovative focus on interdisciplinary research with emphasis on physics, environmental science, and engineering adds distinction to the modules that will be developed with this grant funding,” said Baloga. In particular, the modules will highlight the current research efforts of several Florida Tech faculty members in such disciplines as physics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and marine and environmental systems. With this connection, students who might normally disengage from the traditional chemistry course may more favorably view this field.

Additionally, exercises that allow for student-derived methods development are underrepresented in commercial general chemistry lab manuals. This project should build higher-order cognitive skills to bridge the gap between a beginning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics student and an autonomous research-oriented one.

“The lab modules that we will develop through this project will fill a critical gap among the types of inquiry lab experiments currently undertaken,” said Baloga.
The NSF funding includes two-year stipends/tuition for three graduate students and two undergraduate students who will create and pilot the modules. They also will help supervise the implementation of the new laboratory curriculum. Baloga, the departmental general chemistry coordinator, will coordinate the teaching responsibilities for all graduate teaching assistants and Winkelmann will manage the module development with the student assistants. The new modules will be implemented in fall 2010.

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