Laboratory Techniques in Geology: Embedding Analytical Methods into the Undergraduate Curriculum
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Paid summer REU experiences successfully engage undergraduate students in research and encourage them to continue to graduate school and scientific careers. However these programs only accommodate a limited number of students due to funding constraints, faculty time commitments, and limited access to needed instrumentation. At JMU, the Department of Geology and Environmental Science has embedded undergraduate research into the curriculum. Each student fulfilling a BS in Geology or a BA in Earth Science completes 3 credits of research, including a 1-credit course on scientific communication, 2 credits of research or internship, followed by a presentation of that research. Our department has successfully acquired many analytical instruments and now has an XRD, SEM/EDS, FTIR, handheld Raman, AA, ion chromatograph, and an IRMS. To give as many students as possible an overview to the scientific uses and operation methods for these instruments, we revived a laboratory methods course that includes theory and practical use of instrumentation at JMU, plus XRF sample preparation and analysis training at Virginia Tech during a 1-day field trip. In addition to practical training, projects included analytical concepts such as evaluating analytical vs. natural uncertainty, determining error on multiple measurements, signal-to-noise ratio, and evaluating data quality. State funding through the 4-VA program helped pay for analytical supplies and support for students to complete research projects over the summer or during the next academic year using instrumentation from the course. This course exemplifies an alternative path to broadening participation in undergraduate research and creating stronger partnerships between PUI’s and research universities.