NSU Biology Receives National Science Foundation Grant
Northeastern State Universitys 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
organisms 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
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.