2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 215-4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


CARRIGAN, Charles W., Dept. of Chemistry and Geosciences, Olivet Nazarene University, One University Avenue, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, ccarriga@olivet.edu

In order to help students understand the research process, I have created a semester-long project that is embedded into the Environmental Geochemistry course taught at Olivet Nazarene University. This project focuses on analyzing dissolved inorganic chemical species in natural water samples. Student learning goals for this project include: 1) analytical chemical techniques; 2) background on the Kankakee River watershed; 3) creating a research plan; 4) sampling natural waters and applying analytical chemistry skills; and 5) presenting their work in a paper and an in-house poster session. Olivet Nazarene University is situated centrally within the watershed of the Kankakee River. The Kankakee flows mainly through agricultural land, but significant urban expansion south of Chicago brings more urban influence on the tributary streams in Will County. Several USGS stream gauges are located along these rivers, allowing students access to an additional data source. At the beginning of the semester, students spend 7 weeks learning analytical techniques including gravimetric analysis (for total dissolved solids), titrations (for hardness and alkalinity), spectrophotometric analysis (for silica), ion sensitive electrodes (for various parameters), and atomic absorption analysis (for major cations), in addition to the fundamental content knowledge of water chemistry. Midway through the semester, students collect natural water samples in the field and spend the remainder of the semester analyzing the samples in the lab for bulk properties and dissolved solids. Throughout the semester, students write up short papers for selected individual analyses to gain experience in scientific writing and reports, including formatting, referencing, and data presentation. Throughout the investigation, students repeatedly assess the precision of their analyses by multiple measurements, and in the end conduct several checks for internal consistency of their data. Though some geoscience students may have poor attitudes toward chemistry, motivation is increased by their concern for water quality. The project pushes students toward higher-order thinking skills as they consider, collect, and analyze their own data. Students who complete these projects are more motivated to pursue research than before entering the class.