Research initiative inspires insect inquiryBy Dr. J.D. Rottweiler
Name an agricultural pest insect of Africa and Asia whose larvae feed and develop exclusively on the seed of legumes, whose adults require no food or water, and who spend only one or two weeks mating and laying eggs on beans.
I know, Callosobruchus maculatus is on the tip of your tongue!
Research to develop undergraduate laboratories using the species – commonly known as bean beetles - originated at Emory University and Morehouse College in Atlanta. Other schools were recruited to assist, and Cochise College is one of them.
“Formal research at the community college level?” you ask. Well, yes. With renewed attention on science, technology, engineering and math, there exists a movement to mold science education around the idea that studying it should be an active endeavor that focuses on science as a process. The effort is led by the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI), sponsored by principal investigators at New York’s Finger Lakes Community College and funded by the National Science Foundation.
This semester, three biology students are working with faculty members to study the proteins found and produced in bean beetles at different life stages. Students raise the beetles, extract the proteins and compare them to those of other organisms. In addition, two engineering students are carrying out an unrelated project to develop an algorithm to detect and identify dust devils on Mars from orbital or surface imagery, rather than the tedious, manual digital blink comparison method. The goal is to generate results worthy of publication in a scientific journal or presentation at a scientific conference.
Until now, laboratory research at Cochise has been conducted on a limited basis. Over the past several years, Cochise College chemistry faculty have conducted an ongoing honors project for selected second-semester students with the goal of research and development of a multi-step synthesis of a molecule called dihydrojasmone, which could be incorporated into the sophomore-level organic chemistry laboratory curriculum. In addition, chemistry students have investigated the possibility of distinguishing between burlap materials manufactured in Mexico and that produced in the United States by using Fourier Transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR ).
Ideas that have been percolating among isolated Cochise faculty are beginning to jell into a cohesive undergraduate research program that we hope will place us among the innovators, as well as help us make even stronger connections with our university partners. Undergraduate research credit can help students seeking university admission and scholarships. Our affiliation with the CCURI is an effort to institutionalize undergraduate research so that any student who is interested can easily participate.
Often, community college students participate in lab experiences as part of their class. But that sort of exercise doesn’t provide the freedom to discover the answer to a question that they want to ask, nor to think extensively about the process they will use to find it. Undergraduate research is an avenue for students to develop critical thinking skills and to be exposed to more rigorous challenges that require them to actively develop and carry out a study.
Research can be the fun part of science, particularly when students identify what they want to study and carry it out in a lab. I am glad to see our faculty working to provide students with these opportunities, and I look forward to seeing the published results.
J.D. Rottweiler is president of Cochise College. Contact him at email@example.com.