University of Delaware biology and chemistry
students spent an afternoon down at the farm on Earth Day, April 22,
taking water samples from three locations on the South Campus.
After measuring temperature, pH and oxygen levels, they took the water and samples of plant debris back to the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab) for further analysis.
As part of a project to investigate water quality, BISC208 students
and CHEM104 students teamed up in groups. The ultimate goal of the
project was to apply problem-solving skills to determine which water
samples from the three locations would best fit a given real-world
At the end of the semester, the combined biology and chemistry sections will present their findings on e-posters.
This is the second year students have taken water samples from the UD
Farm to study the impact of water quality based on chemical and
biological tests. Students worked in the lab over three days testing the
During the sessions, biology and chemistry students worked
simultaneously in laboratory rooms connected by a middle classroom, each
group running different types of tests.
Biology students began by looking at their leaf bag samples. Before
spring break, students had placed mesh bags full of leaves in the water
at the farm to see what organisms would grow. During their lab, students
pulled apart the leaves and looked in petri dishes and microscopes to
see which organisms were living on the wet leaves. Students found plenty
of snails, beetles and leeches among other small organisms.
At the same time, chemistry students were on the other side testing
the water samples for iron and nitrate levels. Students used a
spectrophotometer to measure how much of each was present.
While the two classes may have seemed distinct, the amount of overlap
between biology and chemistry was an important emphasis of the
integrated learning approach in the course objectives, said Gary
Laverty, associate professor, and Oyenike Olabisi, assistant professor,
both of biological sciences.
The goals of the integrated courses are to give students lab work
that has real-world significance and to show the importance of
understanding material from both disciplines, Laverty said.
In addition to the professors, the labs are made possible with the
help of preceptors, who bridge the gap between faculty and teaching
assistants. A hallmark of ISE Lab, preceptors are resources for students
and also maintain coordination between the labs and classes.
Students expressed enthusiasm about the problem-based-learning
experience. “Anything that’s more hands-on is better,” said exercise
science major Nick Gruwell.