All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Joe L March

Advisory Committee Members

Christopher Biga

Mitzy Erdmann

Kathryn Kaiser

Jacqueline Nikles

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


Climate change, waste management crises, and global pandemics emphasize the need for a thriving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, and one of the jobs of STEM educators is to provide meaningful educational experiences that engage STEM students in scientific practices, broaden their worldview, and prepare them for a future career in the scientific field. Undergraduate research experiences have been shown to benefit STEM students, but few students can participate, especially at early stages in their undergraduate studies. To broaden participation in undergraduate research, an honors general chemistry laboratory course was converted into a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) in environmental chemistry. Specifically, in collaboration with the Cahaba Riverkeeper, a method for microplastics detection in natural water was incorporated into the laboratory curriculum. Microplastics are a ubiquitous environmental presence, and methods for their quantification in the environment are not standardized, making this topic timely and relevant for an environmental chemistry CURE. The timing of this work allowed for relevant data on the career intentions of STEM students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to be collected. In addition, this work outlines the CURE iv curriculum, including the optimization of a procedure to estimate microplastic pollution in standing water samples with Nile Red as a fluorescent tag, and the outcomes of its implementation, including microplastics estimates at various locations along the Cahaba River from 2020-2022, a summary of student projects from over four years, and this CURE’s impact on our student’s science identity, STEM persistence, and self-efficacy. Method optimization demonstrated that Nile Red is an appropriate microplastics detection method for use in general chemistry laboratories, Trends from two iterations of the CURE are consistent in showing that students who participated in this research experience saw greater gains in self-efficacy and science identity than did students in the traditional general chemistry laboratory. This CURE has the potential to be scaled up to a CURE network, allowing researchers at various institutions to estimate microplastic pollution in watersheds across the country and compare results under a common method.



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