In Biology, how do we prepare students to conduct research?

by  Malinda E.C. Fitzgerald, Ph.D.

Research, according to the Webster’s Dictionary is: a “Noun, The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.”  Or it can be a Verb, “To investigate systematically.”  Each of the majors in science requires a capstone experience that consists of some type of research; generally it involves an internship of 10-12 weeks. These experiences can also consist of courses that are managed and taught by different faculty, according to the discipline, within the school of science. The purpose remains the same, to instill knowledge of the research process. This does not happen over night and in each of the science classes faculty build on experiences that reinforce research methodology.

In the biology department, we place students on the path to the capstone course, Mentored Research, as early as possible, sometimes as early as their freshmen year.  Many of the learning objectives of science laboratories have tasks that are hypothesis driven and also have components that introduce the development and implementation of a novel experimental procedure.

The following are but a few examples from the biology department.  The students in Dr. Fitzgerald’s BIOL 112 class tested the effectiveness of an Iphone app to determine the species of plants around the School of Science (AH and CW).  They used the app, instead of the traditional dichotomous key. to develop a landscape map.  The students in Dr. Ogilvie’s biology honors class, investigated “What types of microbes are found on fruit from the grocery store?”  They will present their results next week.  Another class project was in Dr. Eisen’s Parasitology class.  Students investigated parasite infections from fecal specimens collected in dog parks within Memphis.  The hypothesis was that  samples from the more affluent areas would have fewer parasites.  Lee Curbo presented their results in a poster at the TAS meeting.  Dr. Thompson-Jaeger has her Genetics students utilize siRNA techniques in C. elegans cultures to observe how phenotypic and behavioral modifications can be expressed.  In her Microbiology lab, the students spend a great deal of time running tests on an unknown bacterial culture to identify the sample.  Dr. Moore has had students conduct their capstone project, with him as a mentor, as well as independent research projects and class projects.  Several of these experiments have investigated the relationships of plants grown together as well as the growth of different aged plants during flood conditions (see previous newsletters and TAS abstracts).   Students in Ecology and Wetlands Ecology have learned about experimental design and testing hypotheses.  In animal behavior, Dr. Ross has her students analyze journal articles and then present the data to the class.  This method, reading and reporting on primary literature, is used in several upper division classes.  In the biology Junior Seminar, students not only listen to seminars by local researchers on a variety of topics, but they also present a journal article in a poster session.

Albert Eistein

Albert Eistein

Two of my favorite quotes are by Albert Einstein, the individual that many of us closely link to successful scientific research.He said “If we knew what we were doing it would not be called research, would it?”He also said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”In research we try to get the same results, but frequently they turn out differently!

I have frequently required students in both my Physiology and Neuroscience classes to conduct research, using equipment that we have at CBU.  The students are required to develop a testable hypothesis, write a short research proposal, collect data, and present the results of their study to the class. This semester in Neuroscience students involved me as a research subject; generally I don’t get involved, although other faculty have participated in the past (Newsletter, March, 2012 and Feb, 2010).  The results of their research will be presented on May 1, at 3:30 pm in CW 118.

The Hypothesis tested Neuroscience, Spring 2013:

Cold Hands

Cold hands!

Project 1:  Hypothesis:  Cold hand temperature will limit the speed of texting and warm hands will be faster than the control (at room temp).Methods:  Participants used their own phone and were their own control.  The first phase was to text a statement (at room temp) that was timed and then the subject placed their hands in an ice bath for 30 sec (I couldn’t keep mine in there that long!) then re-text the statement.  The last phase was to place their hands in warm water for 30 sec and then re-text the statement. Times were compared within and across individuals.

EKG loud noise experiment

EKG loud noise experiment

Project 2:  Hypothesis:  A random loud noise will increase heart rate, the closer the noise the greater the increase.Method:  Subjects were placed in a quiet room, with a blindfold on and an EKG protocol was started within Biopac.  Random loud noises occurred and the subject’s heart rate was compared to their own control (prior to the noise).  Additional data on the time for the subjects’ heart rate to return to control levels was calculated, and heart rate responses were also compared with proximity of the noise.

Dr. Fitzgerald doing the timed task experiment

Dr. Fitzgerald doing the timed task experiment.

Project 3:  Hypothesis:  Caffeine will improve short term concentration and awareness during a timed intense situation.Method:  Subjects completed a one minute timed spatial task before, and 20 min after, drinking one cup of Columbian dark roast coffee.  The time and responses were recorded. Responses will be compared both for individuals and all participants.

While all of these short-term experimental studies are all completed in one semester, and are simple compared with the capstone research, they assist in setting the stage for the capstone research. In the biology capstone course, students spend three semesters collecting data (summer internship), writing a journal style article (fall) and finally in the spring they prepare a power point and poster presentation (see TAS article). The poster session is sponsored by the CBU TN Theta chapter of Alpha Chi, which this year is the 17th in a row and will be held on April 16 in the Sabbatini Lounge of the Thomas Center.  The function of this biology three semester process is to take inherent curiosity and rekindle it to its full potential within the interests of the student using the guidelines of the research process unique to a family of sciences. In addition, the students will have seen the three ways scientific research is presented.  These two tools, inherent curiosity and the methodology of the research process, are not about students becoming research scientists, but rather going into life prepared with the tools to solve problems.

While some faculty at CBU do conduct research (see Feb, 2013 and other Feb issues of newsletters), many faculty depend on sabbaticals or summer faculty development funds to conduct research projects, write manuscripts or books.  It is very difficult to be active in research and be effective and committed to teaching.  It is also difficult to get back into research after a hiatus.  I have been very lucky to continue any involvement in research through my collaborators, particularly Dr. Anton Reiner.  Recently, Dr. Siripong Malasri established an informal group called the CBU unofficial R and D Forum.  The purpose of this group is to create synergy among CBU faculty members or staff as well as providing a forum for them to interact with others interested in research.   Since January the group has met three times and there has been a featured speaker at each meeting.  The meetings will begin again in the fall semester, 2013.    Contact Dr. Malasri or visit his website if you are interested in topics and attending (

National Alpha Chi Convention

by Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald, Professor of Biology

The National Alpha Chi Convention was held in Nashville on April 4-6, 2013.  Two students,  Krystyna Clark (sec/tres) and Jessica Ferrell (VP) and two sponsors, Drs. Randel Price and Malinda Fitzgerald attended the meeting.  There were over 500 attendees and over 200 presentations.  Dr. Randel Price served as a judge in two sessions and attended several others.  Two presentations were made by CBU students:  In the molecular and cell biology session, Krystyna Clark*, Maria T. Asuncion Chin, Aditya K. Singh, and Alex M. Dopico.  “Cloning and Expression of cDNA Encoding the Ryanodine Receptor Isoform 2 (RyR2) from Rat Cerebral Artery Smooth Muscle” and in health and disease  Jessica Ferrell and Anton Reiner “Motor dysfunction accompanies corticospinal tract damage in a mouse model of closed-head traumatic brain injury.” 

Alpha Chi meeting

The opening speaker was TN Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch and the CBU students were able to visit with him after the program.

The opening speaker was TN Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch and the CBU students were able to visit with him after the program.  He spoke on the individuals that contributed to his development and mentored him.  Probably one of the most interesting points in his talk was you don’t always know who your mentors are, they may assist you without you knowing it

The TN Theta Alpha Chi Chapter was presented with a star chapter award. Picture by Corey Dugan

The TN Theta Alpha Chi Chapter was presented with a star chapter award. Picture by Corey Dugan

In addition to these two presentations, the TN Theta Alpha Chi Chapter was presented with a star chapter award.  This is the 4th time in a row and the overall 5th time since 1995 when Dr. Fitzgerald became the primary sponsor.


Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald is currently serving as the vice president of region III.  The National Alpha Chi organization is divided into seven regions.  Region III is one of the largest regions, in part because it has several institutions of higher education in the SE and secondarily many of the chapters at these institutions are old established chapters.  Dr. Fitzgerald  will become the president of the region in 2014, after the national convention in Saint Louis and serve for two more years. In order to win a star award the chapter has to accomplish the following:  Complete a service project, have an induction, apply for one of the national scholarship, have at least one scholarly event, and attend the annual meeting and have at least one student presentation.    The primary scholarly event for our chapter is the Student Research Poster Session that is always scheduled for the third Tuesday in April.  This year it will be the on April 16th and it is the 17th annual event.  Students from across the campus have presented at this event and it seems to enlarge each year.

Krystyna at the moment of hearing of her scholarship award.

Krystyna at the moment of hearing of her scholarship award.

The big news that we received at the meeting was that Krystyna Clark won one of the 10 nationally awarded graduate scholarships to continue her education.  This is the first CBU student to win one of these competitive awards.  The award is called the Benedict Scholarship and is $ 2,500.  She will be attending Pharmacy school at UTHSC this fall.  While we were unable to be in Nashville because we had returned to Memphis for the TAS meeting at CBU, Krystyna still was surprised when we made the announcement at the TAS award luncheon!


Dr. Fitzgerald and her Alpha Chi award.  Picture by Cory Dugan.

Dr. Fitzgerald and her Alpha Chi award. Picture by Cory Dugan.

Dr. Price was able to attend the awards ceremony on Saturday, after the others had returned to Memphis.  A surprise award that he brought back with him was that Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald won the Distinguished Service Sponsor Award for Region III.  He presented it to her at CBU.

The service that the chapter has conducted this past year has been primarily supporting the national reading is fundamental program.  The chapter collected hundreds of new and used books and distributed them to the Head Start, Snowden Clue Program and Caritas Village.  In addition to this the chapter has collected quarters for Heifer International and has enough for a goat ($120) and is well on its way to the second goat.  Alpha Chi in conjunction with Sigma Tau Delta at CBU spearheaded the collection of Toys for Tots on campus, participated in Bowling for Uganda (sponsored by BBB and initiated by students in the MHIRT program), and helped in the collection over 400 pounds of food for the Mid South Food Bank.

Service comes naturally to Dr. Fitzgerald who also participated in other community service projects through her church, for example she directed collection of materials to send to Afghanistan to soldiers for Christmas.  Her church, Prescott Baptist, has long been know for social justice and community involvement, funds were also collected to assist Sherwood Elementary School, and a MA refugee assistance program, started by Meredith Walsh a MHIRT graduate.  Meredith will also be honored on May 2, 2013 by the MA legislature for her involvement “to the civic life, economic development, and social progress of the Commonwealth.”  Many MHIRT graduates continue to be involved in service with the country that they conducted research in.  A prime example was Samantha Bowers who won the Gerald Vanderhaar Student Peace Award in 2012.  Some of the programs that have been started by student graduates from the MHIRT:  Visible Campus, Gulu Walk, Arudo Yat, Easy Access to Bed Nets, Bowling for Uganda supporting Hope North, helping selling children’s art work through Let Art Talk, and Kopo Kopo to allow medium and small African businesses to accept mobile payments.

Like all faculty and students at CBU we enter to learn and leave to serve.

Math Center Tutors

The Math Center is a very popular place and continues to set new records for usage. It is a place for free one-on-one tutoring in math. It is also a place to do your math homework by yourself or in a study group with others in the center. Here are profiles of two of the tutors. Profiles of some of the other math tutors can be found in previous issues of this newsletter.

Kevin Pham

Kevin Pham

Kevin Pham, a graduate of Arlington High School, is a junior Biology major with a math minor.  He has been a tutor in the Math Center over the past two years.  Very friendly and helpful with the students using the Math Center, he is one of our very gifted tutors.  Besides using his talents in the center, Kevin is also treasurer of Beta, Beta, Beta, the Biology Honor Society, a member of the CBU student chapter of the Mathematical Association of America and an active member of the School of Science.  In addition to these accomplishments he has also served as a President’s Ambassador and last summer as a mentor for incoming freshmen in the CBU CARL program.

Phyo Aung

Phyo Aung

Phyo Aung, the first international student from Myanmar (Burma) at CBU, graduated from BEHS 2 in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar.  She is currently a junior at CBU majoring in Civil Engineering with a minor in Packaging.  She has been tutoring very successfully for over two year in the Math Center and is very enthusiastic when working with students.  Besides her hours in the center she is active in many organizations at CBU; among them are: Secretary in TAPPI Student Chapter, member in ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers), SWE (Society of Women Engineers) and the Intercultural Club CBU.

Active Student Groups

Beta Beta Beta Bowling for Uganda

Beta Beta Beta Bowling for Uganda

Beta Beta Beta, the biology honor society, is a very active student group.  Here is a list of activities the group has held:
February 2012: Inducted 26 full members and 27new members. Samantha
Bownes spoke about her experiences at Hope North through the MHIRT
March 2012: Speaker for Church Health Center spoke at Tri Beta meeting. He
explained the services provided by CHC and encouraged students to apply for internships.
April 2012:  1. Faculty/Student Volleyball tournament for the Church Health Center raised $600.  Faculty won for 2nd year in a row.  2. Arranged for tours of the University
of Tennessee Health Science Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Center.  3. Election of new officers.  4. Lasagna dinner (fixed by Dr. Mary Ogilvie) for old and new officers.
May 2012:  Senior members were able to proudly wear their Tri Beta Honor cords to graduation.
October 2012:  Mock Interviews with health professionals.  Julia Hanebrink (MHIRT Program Director) spoke at the meeting about Hope North in Uganda.  Co-sponsored an event with the Honors program for a screening of the movie, Born to be Wild.  This was followed by a talk presented by two zoo staffers from the Memphis Zoo.
November 2012:  Bowling for Hope North raised about $1,000 for the Ugandan community.
December 2012:  Tri Beta & ACS Christmas party and carols.
February 2013:  Induction of 31 associate and 11 full memebers.  Dr. James Moore, Assistant Professor of Biology, was the invited speaker and talked about the ecology of the Mississippi River.
March 2013:  The Volunteer Director from the Church Health Center (CHC) spoke to the grouop about CHC services and encouraged students to apply for internships.

SMACS officers

From left to right, the picture above shows Anna Birg, Vice-President, Robert Banks, National Chemistry Week Chair, Yusef Akbik, President, Esha Thakore, Secretary, Krystyna Clark, Treasurer, Russell Higgins, Senator, and Parth Thakor, Webmaster. Officers not pictured include Tiffany Corkran, Chemistry Olympiad Chair,
Brent Holmes, Social Chair, and Alvin Siow, Photographer/Historian.

The CBU Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) has been very active during the past year.  The club received notification during fall 2012 that it will receive an Honorable Mention Award from the national office of the American Chemical Society for its 2011-2012 chapter activities.  The CBU SMACS chapter was also notified during fall 2012 that it will receive a Green Chemistry Chapter Award from the American Chemistry Society’s Green Chemistry Institute.  Formal presentation of the awards comes at the April 2013 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Anyone with an interest in chemistry or biochemistry is encouraged to join the club; membership includes students from the School of Engineering and most majors in the School of Science.  Yusef Akbik is the current President of the CBU SMACS chapter.

During the month of October, 2012, SMACS celebrated National Chemistry Week and Mole Day.  2012 marked the 75th Anniversary of the American Chemical Society’s Student Members clubs and the 25th Anniversary of National Chemistry Week.  The week began with a surprise demonstration on Monday of Elephant Toothpaste in the lobby of Assisi Hall and continued with Diet Coke and Mentos on Tuesday outside Cooper-Wilson, The Flaming Gummi Bear on Wednesday, a Special Seminar of Chemical Demonstrations by Dr. Harmon Donathan on Thursday, and Foaming Pumpkins in the lobby of Cooper-Wilson on Friday.  The club had its traditional Mole Day Dinner on October 23 at the Spaghetti Warehouse with student members and both current and Emeriti faculty in attendance.  A good time was had by all!

SMACS helping at Science Fair last year

The picture above was taken during the judging portion of the 2012 Memphis-Shelby County Science and Engineering Fair.

The CBU SMACS Chapter participated in a variety of community service activities during the past year.  The club is one of the sponsors of the Memphis-Shelby County Science and Engineering Fair.  Members of the club serve important roles in the Fair handling registration, judging middle school science projects, helping with general set-up and program preparation, and serving as courtesy guides.  The CBU chapter was also co-host for the Greater Shelby County local and National Examinations of the Chemistry Olympiad and the local High School Competitive Examination which were sponsored by the Memphis section of the American Chemical Society and were held during spring 2012.

The club participates in a wide range of additional service activities including chemical demonstrations for middle and high school students, participation in the Science Olympiad, participation in activities and demonstrations that promote environmental awareness, and assisting the Admissions Department with demonstration sessions during Science and Engineering Days.

Dominique Garcia-Robles (Left, B.S. Chemistry, 2011) and Kay Powell (Center) are shown talking with Damien Stevenson (B.S., Biochemistry) after the presentation.

Dominique Garcia-Robles, Chemistry 2011 (left) and Kay Powell (Center) are shown talking with Damien Stevenson, Biochemistry major, after the presentation.

The CBU chapter of SMACS participates in a number of activities with Tri-Beta, the Biology Honor Society.  They co-host the annual ACS-Tri-Beta Christmas Party.  Members of the CBU SMACS chapter participate in several Tri-Beta events, including Bowling for Hope North in Uganda and the Annual Volleyball Game for the Church Health Center.  On March 14, 2013, Tri-Beta was the club’s special guest for a joint meeting featuring presentations by Kay Powell on Optometry School and Dominique Garcia-Robles (B.S. Chemistry, 2011) on service opportunities with SVOSH, Student Volunteers for Optometric Service to Humanity. Both Kay Powell and Dominique Garcia-Robles are students at the Southern College of Optometry School.

MAA Chess Tournament this fall

Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Chess Tournament this fall

The Student Section of the Mathematical Association of America received the CREATIVE PROGRAM AWARD for its Chess Tournament at the Greek Awards 2012.  They again hosted the event this past November.  In addition to their usual activities: they created Fibonacci rectangles that resulted in the golden spiral seen through the Cooper-Wilson Science Center,  students from the Geometry and History of Math class shared insights about the origins of zero and early (surprisingly accurate) computations of the Earth’s circumference;  and teams challenged each other in a friendly game of Math Jeopardy.  A new addition to the annual Pi Day celebration was the tattoos members showed off.  Of course, that did not interfere with their eating pie.   The group is planning a trip to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where they will tour the Oak Ridge National Laboratories on March 25th.  The theme of Math Awareness Month 2013 is the Mathematics of Sustainability.  Sustainability is not only a hot national topic, but one that has inspired several initiatives on CBU’s campus in recent years.  The MAA is planning activities to educate the campus about math’s role.

Science Jeopardy contest

Science Jeopardy contest

The CBU chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) held a kite flying event at Shelby Farms in the spring, and had a paper airplane contest that included contestants from Rhodes College.  SPS members also attended the Zone 10 SPS meeting at Henderson State University where Brent Holmes made a presentation.  This fall it held a Science Jeopardy contest where teams from both CBU and Rhodes College competed.   SPS members assisted with three of the Science Olympiad events this spring.  SPS members also joined Rhodes College SPS members at a formal dance at the new Kroc Center this spring.

Featured Article: Two of our Math Center Tutors

KJ Grove, Math Center Tutor

KJ Grove, Math Center Tutor

The Math Center is a very popular place and continues to set new records for usage. It is a place for free one-on-one tutoring in math. It is also a place to do your math homework by yourself or in a study group with others in the center. Here are profiles of two of the tutors. Profiles of some of the other math tutors can be found in previous issues of this newsletter.
Sophomore mechanical engineer KJ Grover has been a math center tutor for almost a year now starting in the second semester of his freshman year. A graduate of Homelife Academy, KJ was home schooled throughout high school. He is a member of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), has been a Freshman Peer Councilor, and is currently on the moon buggy team and the mini-Baja team in the School of Engineering. He tutors anything from basic algebra to Calculus III and is always willing to give a helping hand in the Math Center.

Tyler Stranburg, Math Center Tutor

Tyler Stranburg, Math Center Tutor

Tyler Stranburg, a sophomore, started tutoring in the Math Center this fall. He is native of Tallahassee Florida and states that he chose CBU because of the great atmosphere and the honors program. His major is Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He tutors basic math through Calculus II and also is a tutor for basic Chemistry. Tyler is a proud member of the CBU honors program.

The Math Center tutors will help any CBU student with a math question or problem. They provide assistance in a warm and congenial atmosphere. They can get you through the toughest homework problem. They’re here to help you learn math.

Location: Cooper-Wilson 321
Phone: 901-321-3245