Syed's Lilly Proposal
PROPOSED PERSONAL PROJECT
Development of Modules for Cross Training of Engineers in Biological and Molecular Technologies
Civil and environmental engineers are primarily responsible for providing water, air, and infrastructures, and protect the environment from harmful contaminants. Tools to provide these necessities are often dependent on scientific information that is outside the traditional civil and environmental engineering curriculum. For example many sensors and biochips that may be useful to accomplish the above responsibilities require knowledge of subjects such as genomics and nanotechnology. However, barring research projects, there is no formal course where they are introduced to the science underpinning these developments. Incorporation of even introductory material into the teaching curriculum lags behind research, sometimes by decades. For example, use of molecular probes by environmental engineers is at least 15 years old but the first environmental engineering textbook that discusses the basic concepts about molecular probes was published in 2001 (Environmental Biotechnology, Principles and Applications. Rittmann, B. and McCarty, P., 2001). The need to incorporate selected and relevant aspects of these emerging disciplines into the engineering curricula is clear.
This task can be accomplished either by integrating hands-on exercise modules into existing courses (e.g., environmental engineering, water and wastewater treatment, environmental microbiology, and biological processes) or by having a separate stand-alone course. The former seems to be a better option at present because engineering students already have a full load of courses. It should be noted that there are courses offered on campus with a focus on genomics and bioinformatics (e.g., by the Center for Biological Modeling) but these courses have limited enrollment, are more suitable for researchers, and require prerequisite courses that engineers do not have. Hence they are not likely to benefit from them.
As a Lilly Teaching Fellow, I would like to develop laboratory and lecture modules that emphasize active and collaborative learning of the basic concepts to enhance the educational experience of civil and environmental engineering students in the above-mentioned areas. The overall objective is to cross-train them in the basics of biological and molecular sciences and technologies so that they are well informed and better equipped to employ tools that originate from other disciplines. The task may seem trivial because it may appear to be simply the development of a few additional lectures. However, because the topics for these modules transcend all engineering and scientific disciplines and often contain a large amount of information, designing stand-alone, brief, and comprehensible modules is challenging. Training of engineers and scientists in bioinformatics using modules developed and delivered through the internet by various experts located all over the world is an example of this approach. I have tentatively identified four main areas for the teaching modules proposed here:
- Biosensors and environmental genomics
- Nanotechnology for civil and environmental engineers
- Bioinformatics for the environment
- Water environment
I plan to develop these modules in a manner that does not require significant prerequisite information. It will only use the most basic skills learned in high school and freshman level courses. When appropriate, it will use computer simulation and laboratory exercises focusing on the processes. It is in line with my own teaching philosophy and approach of presenting information in a manner that provides distinctly identifiable and measurable skills, at a pace that is suitable to all students. Two examples of the type of modules that I envision are included in the Appendix. The first one is a computer based laboratory exercise on molecular probe design. This I developed as part of the Microbiology for Environmental Health Engineering course (CE487) that I teach during Spring semester. Such a module combined with laboratory simulation software (e.g., for a polymerase chain reaction: http://www.amnh.org/learn/pd/genetics/pcr/) and actual applications can enhance the experience of civil and environmental engineers about microbial detection tools and approaches. In fact, the last exercise of this computer laboratory (design of probes to detect a group of microorganisms responsible for corrosion of concrete) is also a research task that I am carrying out in an EPA funded project under Dr. Perviz Soroushian. The second example developed by Dr. Bruce A. Hungate, Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is a Power-point presentation on stable isotopes analysis. Only the first few pages of a 22-page lecture are reproduced here. It emphasizes the power of effective lecture material on a topic that may not be familiar to engineering students.
In addition to developing and integrating these modules into the civil and engineering curriculum, it is also critical to assess their impact and usefulness to the students in the real world. I will utilize methods that readily assess the enhancement in their skills due to the inclusion of these specific modules. I will also develop and use approaches to obtain feedback from students after they have left MSU, e.g., through targeted specifically towards these modules, with the help of the College of Engineering. A qualitative impact of the research oriented activities can be gauged by the opportunities that are becoming available to the students working with me, e.g., Stephen Callister , a doctoral candidate, is being interviewed for post-doctoral position at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Vincent Denef (a visiting scholar in my laboratory) received a Fellowship from the Government of Belgium and is now pursuing part of his research work at CME, and Marjoline Tijdens, another visitor from Netherlands, landed a job in a research organization that required microarray technology. Impact of course modules will obviously be different and needs to be gauged appropriately.
Mentor: Professor Susan Masten will be my mentor for this project for both the development of modules and assessment of their impact. She is one of the most qualified professors in my department for this purpose. In addition to excellent teaching and research skills, she has also developed several new approaches for effective teaching and assessment. She is a previous Lilly Fellow and is well versed with the program. I have an excellent rapport with her and she has graciously agreed to serve as my mentor.