NSU Biology Receives National Science Foundation Grant

Northeastern State University’s department of Biology received a Major Research Instrumentation Grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $73,337. The grant will be used to purchase several environmental chambers that will allow students and faculty to conduct laboratory investigations examining the effects of temperature, light, and humidity on plants and animals. With these instruments, some science faculty will work to develop problem-based laboratory experiences in students’ Biology curriculum. In addition, these instruments will be utilized by students and faculty for research.

“The main initiative in the proposal was to use these environmental chambers in both classes and independent research to give NSU students the opportunity to develop and carry out research,” said NSU Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Vincent Cobb. “The idea being, that students will best learn how science works by actually conducting experiments and going through the process. We plan to expose students to these instruments and get them involved with hands-on science in some of their first classes, such as General Botany.”

The environmental chambers are refrigerator-sized units or smaller that allow organisms to be contained at very specific temperatures, photoperiods regimes, light intensities, and humidities. Although environmental chambers
are simple instruments, they control two of the most important environmental variables for many living organisms – temperature and light. By having precise control over these factors, one can conduct experiments to clearly observe the effects that these conditions have on certain aspects of an organism’s life. For example, it is studies with instruments such as these that have allowed scientists to discover that the sex (male or female) of all crocodilians and many turtles is determined by the incubation temperature of the egg in a nest and not specific combinations of sperm and egg at the moment of conception.

Biology majors will get instruction in experimental design and data analysis early in their university training. This will begin at the introductory level in General Botany Laboratory. The experimental process will be further integrated into curriculum at the upper level. Students in upper level courses such as Plant Physiology, Animal Physiology, and Entomology will participate in more advanced investigation-centered laboratories. Once students have become familiar with these instruments in classes, they will be more likely to participate in independent research with a faculty mentor.

Four of the purchased chambers will be Arabidopsis Growth Chambers. Arabidopsis is considered the gold standard for plant research. Many genetic variants are available of this small mustard-like plant making it an excellent model for student experimentation. Seven other chambers will be purchased for use in animal-related courses and animal research.

“Students in the sciences need numerous hands-on experiences to grasp the true nature of science and experimentation,” said Cobb. With this grant, NSU will strengthen its students’ curriculum by making class laboratories more experimental and will also promote student and faculty research. Experience in designing and carrying out experiments will give students a better understanding of the scientific process and help them to develop the confidence to pursue careers in science.”

“I have specific research interests in the thermal biology of animals,” continued Cobb. “I am making plans to utilize some of these instruments to study the effects of temperature on the physiology, morphology, innate behavior, and embryonic development of snakes. Here, students would have additional opportunities to develop independent research projects to better understand the role that temperature and photoperiod have on animals.”

Dr. Cobb is the primary investigator from the grant and teaches General Zoology, Human Anatomy, Herpetology, and Histology. He is beginning his fourth year at NSU and received his Ph.D. in 1994 from Idaho State University where he studied the thermal biology of rattlesnakes.

Other co-investigators for the NSF grant include Dr. Craig Clifford, Dr. Donna Smith, and Monica Macklin.


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