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PROFILE

Kimberly Earnheart,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Pennsylvania State University
Graduate Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Technology (GREATT)
URL: http://csats.psu.edu/GREATT/

Thesis Title: Hypothesis Driven Assessment of an Integrated NMR Curriculum
College/University: Pennsylvania State University

Research Advisor: Karl Mueller



Degree Sought
Ph.D., Chemistry

University Department and/or Lab
Chemistry Department

Research Focus
This project attempts to develop a battery of assessments to determine whether deeper understanding of one particular instrumental concept, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), increases undergraduate studentsí abilities to solve other, more general chemical problems.

Description of Research
The goal of this project was to develop a battery of assessments to determine whether deeper understanding of one particular instrumental concept, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), increases undergraduate studentsí abilities to solve other, more general chemical problems. The NSF funds many undergraduate programs through the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) each year, and there is increasing demand to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of curricula developed from this support. While curriculum evaluation is common in educational fields, scientific fields have yet to adopt a systematic way of accomplishing this.

This project tracks changes to the undergraduate chemistry curriculum over upper level chemistry courses using assessments for the constructs of understanding, confidence and problem-solving ability. The curriculum itself is comprised of instructional modules, each course specific, developed to give undergraduates hands-on experience, in addition to a more in-depth discussion of particular NMR topics. For example, for an instrumental analysis course, students build their own NMR probe. Written assignments and online surveys were used to assess the key constructs. Assessments monitor changes in studentsí understanding, confidence, and problem-solving abilities using written assignments and online surveys. All data will be analyzed quantitatively upon course termination using methods adapted from the educational literature. This data will be used to support or disprove the hypothesis that problem solving ability will increase as students gain a deeper understanding of NMR.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
One of our most popular lessons for all ages involves Liquid Nitrogen (N2). Liquid N2 can be used to change the properties of all kinds of things: fruits and flowers shatter, polymers (rubber bands and ping pong balls) become more brittle, and ice cream can be made in minutes. But what it is really used for?

Some chemists use liquid N2 to cool expensive equipment. For example, an NMR spectrometer needs to be cooled (to 4K) for the superconducting magnet to work. Synthetic chemists use many chemicals that are so active they react with air, thus we need an inert atmosphere (either pure nitrogen or argon) that must be condensed for storage and transport. As a chemist who has studied both synthetic organic chemistry (for which I received a M.S. at Penn State) and NMR (for my Ph. D. research), I am uniquely qualified to relay the varied practical uses of this fun material.

In addition, we have added a demonstration to show how extreme cold can affect magnetic properties, which is why we use liquid N2 to cool NMR spectrometers. When you place a chip of ferrite magnet on top of a neodymium magnet in a Petri dish nothing happens. However, adding liquid nitrogen to the Petri dish causes the ferrite magnet to slightly levitate and start spinning!



Profile date: September 2007
 
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