Interdisciplinary Research in Introductory Science Classes

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Conference Proceeding

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At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Geology and Chemistry departments have developed an interdisciplinary student research project in our Physical Geology and first semester general chemistry laboratory. During this project, students do the same things that real scientists do while discovering the application of science to their lives, its interdisciplinary nature and the nature of scientific careers.

The research project involves an ongoing study of drinking water quality in the Omaha area. Geology students collect water samples from their homes or businesses, record conditions of collection (regular, filtered, softened, well, etc.) and the samples are delivered to the Chemistry students. They analyze the water for the most common ions in drinking water by ion chromatography. Data are entered into a spreadsheet and sent back to the Geology students for data analysis. After observing the data, students raise questions about such things as the difference between city and well water and the effect of water softening on the concentrations of certain ions in water. The class is broken into small working groups, with the eventual presentation to the rest of the class, followed by a general discussion, mediated by the faculty member, emphasizing geologic reasons.

Our goals are to 1) improve the crucial first impressions these students form about science at this level, 2) increase the number of geology and chemistry majors, 3) increase student independence, responsibility, and self motivation, 4) increase retention of students in introductory geology and chemistry courses, and 5) increase the curricular relevance and concentration in science for science-phobic students.

As a result of this work, our students have indicated that they not only enjoyed the project but that it increased how much they like science in general their understanding of what scientific research is. It has also positively impacted the attitudes pre-service teachers.


Shuster, R., Richter-Egger, D., Hagen, J., Laquer, F., Grandgenett, N. (2007). Formal Abstract: Interdisciplinary Research in Introductory Science Classes. Abstract in the proceedings of the 2007 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, October 28-31, in Denver, Colorado.

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