From Earlham CS Department
Jump to navigation Jump to search

6. Overview:

There have been repeated calls for multidisciplinary collaborative education and research as well as the incorporation of computational methods within the curriculums of other science disciplines (PITAC 2005, “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research”, BIO2010). Research and curriculum models that study the fate and transport of metals in the environment require a multidisciplinary approach with a significant emphasis on computational methodology. These studies involve computational methods, field methods, and instrumentation that are accessible to undergraduates and can be incorporated in student-faculty collaborative research as well as course modules across the curriculum. Therefore, this area is an ideal topic for training our students to develop multi-faceted approaches to problem solving.

7. Relevant Efforts:

Earlham science faculty have been involved in multidisciplinary and computational student/faculty research. Additionally many of our science faculty have worked with local environmental issues. Faculty members in biology, geology and chemistry have been engaged in studies that range from atmospheric measurements of mercury and the determination of metal contamination in lake sediments to aquatic ecosystems. Our science curriculum places a strong emphasis on quantitative, analytical and research-based projects. Many of our research projects engage student/faculty teams in multidisciplinary efforts; e.g. computational phylogenetic reconstruction, molecular dynamics simulations, determination of atrazine from agricultural runoff in local water sources and its effect on the physiological development of aquatic species.

8. Peer Groups:

The Keck Center for Macromolecular Studies at Trinity University focuses on interdisciplinary faculty and student research, as well as interdisciplinary curricular development. However, Trinity’s program has a major focus on the integration of biology and chemistry, while our proposed program uses biology, chemistry, geosciences, mathematical, and computational science methods to explore environmental problems. Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania has implemented an Interdisciplinary Watershed Research Laboratory for field-based environmental laboratories. This project is similar in scope to our proposed project, but primarily integrates biology and geography/earth science, while we are proposing to involve more disciplinary perspectives.

9. Goals and Methodology:

The fundamental goal is the development of multidisciplinary curriculum modules and related research program that incorporate computational methods to study an environmental problem of local significance. This will be accomplished through an extensive study of the fate, transport and toxicity of metals in our local watershed. We anticipate that the outcome will provide a framework for future multidisciplinary environmental studies at Earlham College and other liberal arts institutions. Curriculum modules will be incorporated into 6 introductory courses and at least 7 upper level courses in biology, chemistry, computer science, geosciences and mathematics. To illustrate how traditional topics can be introduced in an innovative way using this environmental project as a unifying theme, we propose to incorporate a new environmental chemistry component into our general chemistry class. This unit will introduce students to fate and transport modeling of metals by measuring the distribution coefficient commonly used to estimate the concentration of metal pollutants in aqueous systems. An example of a lab module in an upper-level hydrogeology course will involve a complete hydrogeologic characterization of the research site. Students will use laboratory sessions to collect samples, determine aquifer properties, and quantitatively determine baseline metals concentrations in the research site in a process meant to simulate an actual research investigation. Hydrogeology students will work with students who have an emphasis in chemistry and computational science to develop protocols for performing environmental fate experiments, chemical analyses, and equilibrium speciation modeling. During the academic year, students taking courses that include these modules will be strongly encouraged to participate in a weekly, faculty facilitated seminar in which they will discuss their course experiences. At the end of each semester, students participating in courses that have these modules will be required to attend and present their group projects at a locally hosted poster session. Initially, the summer research component will involve developing and testing curriculum modules. In summers two and three, students will have the opportunity to conduct more advanced research related to metals in the environment including analyses of metals in a variety of environmental matrices, descriptions and quantifications of food chains and computational modeling of rates of biomagnification of metals at higher trophic levels, performance of whole-soil hydraulic conductivity tests and determination of soil mineral reactivities, and computer modeling of biochemical and groundwater processes. All students participating in summer research will have two opportunities each week to discuss the multidisciplinary perspectives related to their projects: faculty from all departments will facilitate a weekly seminar and students will discuss their research projects in a student-led seminar. Timeline: In spring 2007, we will purchase and install equipment, and begin initial course module/seminar development. In the summers of 2007-09, we will pursue course module and seminar development, as well as conduct student/faculty research. During the subsequent academic years (2007-10), we will implement these course modules and seminars throughout our curriculum.

10. Institutional Resources:

Earlham College has an unusually cohesive science faculty who meet in weekly divisional meetings to discuss and share many intra-divisional interests. Their teaching philosophy strongly emphasizes collaborative student-faculty research within courses and co-curricular activities. Science faculty and students gather every fall semester to present their research at the Earlham Annual Research Conference. Their close collaboration has led to the recent awarding of several multidisciplinary grants such as a Merck/AAAS grant for interdisciplinary summer research (2002), HHMI (2000), and an NSF-MRI for a 400-MHz NMR (2002). These successes, as well as the College’s commitment to supporting the faculty’s efforts in securing external funding, have resulted in an impressive list of scientific equipment, unusual for a college of our size. The quality of the teaching and learning experience at Earlham has also been demonstrated in the outcome of science alumni. In 2000, Earlham ranked eighth among 1302 institutions of higher learning in the Biological Sciences category of the Baccalaureate Origins Report.

11. Impact:

The college’s general education requirements will ensure that nearly every one of Earlham’s 1200 students will take at least one course that contains a multidisciplinary research module with a computational component before they graduate. Science majors will further benefit from taking multiple module-integrated courses and from participating in the summer research opportunities. Because this project will impact the local community, we will hold an annual poster session on-campus for the public in which faculty and students will present their results. We believe this innovative approach of combining classroom scientific inquiry, summer research projects, multidisciplinary discussion, and community participation will give our students and the wider community a unique opportunity to engage in truly modern and authentic collaborative science.

12. Fundraising:

We request that WMKF, with institutional support from the College, fund this pilot project. The College has committed $167,049 in resources as start-up funding. We are embarking on a capital campaign that includes a goal of building a $3 million endowment for science faculty/student research. We believe that a WMKF investment will serve as a catalyst for major gifts from alumni, friends, corporations and other foundations.