Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) at ECU | Undergraduate research


Undergraduate research is a high-impact practice that supports student learning and engagement, especially in historically under-represented student populations. Because research has so much impact, we want as many of our students to experience it! This is where our course-based undergraduate research experiences come in. Our CUREs bring research to the classroom, allowing students to experience being part of a project during their time in class. Our CUREs are curriculum-based, so students can easily enroll in these courses with an emphasis on research as part of their regular curriculum. Many of our CUREs at ECU have the added benefit of being part of an ongoing grant project supporting team science, so that our future STEM leaders learn to work together to solve our region’s biggest challenges. Going forward, look for courses with the RI (Research Intensive) designation in your catalog for available CUREs. Fill out our CURE Interest Form to receive more information. Learn more about CURES online.

Pre-CURE in progress

The following introductory lab courses engage students in experimental design, data collection and analysis, scientific argument construction, and scientific writing. All these skills as well as learning to work in a team prepare students to embark on research.

  • General chemistry laboratory I / II (CHEM 1151/1161)
  • Principles of Biology Laboratory I / II (BIOL 1101/1201)
  • General Physics Laboratory I / II (PHYS 1251/1261)
  • Dynamic Earth Laboratory (GEOL 1501)

CURE in progress

Microbiology Laboratory (BIOL 3221), Ariane Peralta

Bacterial growth rates, carbon metabolism and nutrient acquisition will be analyzed in isolates and in samples from the soil microbial community. Each microbial isolate will be identified to the species level using Sanger sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. We will measure isolate-level traits such as growth rate and carbon use profile. Nestled in a long-term experiment that manipulates nutrient and disturbance regimes in a wetland, students in the Microbiology CURE program will generate and test hypotheses regarding the growth rates of isolates characterized during the course. Each microbial isolate will be identified to the species level by Sanger sequencing of the full length 16S rRNA gene.

Vegetation Sampling and Analysis (BIO 3550), Carol Goodwillie

The course involves undergraduates in long-term, large-scale experience in the ecology of plant communities. Students learn skills in plant identification, vegetation sampling methods, statistical analysis of large data sets, and science communication. Working as a team, students collect data on the plant community at a local field site, analyze the data to test their hypotheses, and present their results in written and oral form.

Marine Biology Laboratory (BIOL 3661), Rebecca Asch

The objective of this CURE is to examine the distribution of microplastic pollution and its impacts on coastal organisms in estuaries with contrasting levels of urbanization. Students participate in three one-day research cruises during which they collect water quality samples and samples of mesozooplankton, benthic macrofauna, and demersal fish. Organisms are counted and identified at higher taxonomic levels during subsequent labs, while water quality samples are analyzed in the ECU’s Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL). In addition, students learn to use a ZooScan, a new instrument that uses machine learning algorithms to semi-automatically identify taxa of zooplankton. The fish are dissected and their stomach contents inspected to assess ingestion rates of microplastics.

Microbial biotechnology (BIOL 4420), Erin Field

This course focuses on the microbial role in environmental, agricultural and industrial processes with an emphasis on how microbes work and what we can do to control or improve their abilities. Topics covered include water treatment, biofuels, environmental sanitation, food production and pharmaceutical development. The associated lab will provide hands-on experience and the opportunity to use cutting-edge sequencing technologies to conduct a course-based undergraduate research project.

Microbial Ecology (BIOL 4560), Ariane Peralta

Students in the interdisciplinary CURE Wetlands Program will study how hydrology and nutrient addition interact to influence plant-soil-microbial interactions. Students will examine how hydrology and nutrient enrichment directly and indirectly (via the effects of plants) affect the microbial structure-function relationships of wetlands.

Applications in Molecular Cell Biology (BIOL 4800), Elizabeth Ables

This course provides graduate biology students with an immersive research experience enabling them to acquire practical skills in genetics and molecular cell biology.

Organic Chemistry Laboratory I / II (CHEM 2753 / CHEM 2763), Toby Allen

Working in teams of three, students will design and synthesize unnatural amino acids that alter their fluorescence output in response to changes in acidity. Proteins containing the amino acids will be added to heart cells to determine how a lowered blood pH damages heart tissue.

Organic Chemistry Laboratory II (CHEM 2763), Robert Hughes

In this project, students will work with protein biocatalysts that catalyze carbon-carbon bond formation reactions in non-aqueous or mixed aqueous / organic solvents. Students will examine these proteins for their ability to catalyze the synthesis of important pharmaceutical compounds, such as warfarin (an anticoagulant) and Bis-4-hydroxycoumarin (an anticancer compound). Students will quantify reaction yields and enantioselectivities and perform optimization studies. The biological activity of the compounds will be evaluated in cellular assays.

Laboratory of Biological Chemistry (CHEM 2771), Adam Offenbacher

Students will build a library of protein variants that will aim to assess the binding interaction between two human proteins, in which the interaction has been implicated in ferroptosis – a non-apoptotic form of programmed cell death. Students will choose an amino acid residue (involved in binding) to mutate, design primers, perform mutagenesis, sequence mutant DNA, and optimize the expression and purification of the mutant protein.

Quantitative and instrumental analysis (CHEM 3251), Eli Hvastkovs

The CURE laboratory will seek to develop a disposable paper-based microfluidic device that can perform the basics of a titration (determination of analyte concentration, colorimetric detection) using minute quantities of consumables. The microfluidic devices will be made of paper and wax and can be used to determine the concentrations of a variety of analytes depending on the choices of the student groups. Several different designs will be explored, but we’ll start with a parafilm-kimwipe version summarized in the literature that showcases iron and copper detection in water with colorimetric detection, which can be viewed using a common smartphone.

Instrumental analysis (CHEM 4351), Eli Hvastkovs

This course serves as a cornerstone in the chemistry curriculum, the course content focuses on how to design and perform instrumental analyzes for a variety of applications.

Water Quality (ENVE 3103) and Water and Wastewater Treatment (ENVE 3203), Natasha Bell

This two-semester CURE will allow junior-level environmental engineering (EE) teams to apply learned concepts and actively participate in research and engineering design processes to ultimately test the effectiveness of designed treatment technologies. for the remediation of diffuse source contaminants. Treatment technologies will be studied at the laboratory and mesocosm / pilot scale and will include man-made wetlands, underground bioreactors and adsorbent filters.

Groundwater Hydrology (ENVE 4203), Randall Etheridge

This CURE studies groundwater flow, the interaction between groundwater and surface water and the transport of contaminants in man-made and natural systems near campus. Students collect field samples for laboratory analysis and perform in situ field tests to better understand how the systems under study work.

Introduction to field methods (GEOL 3200/3201), Eric Horsman

Students collect their own observations of local geology, incorporate them into published observations / literature, and complete a substantial final project including several geological maps, a scientific article, and other products.

Introduction to hydrogeology (GEOL 3500), Alex Manda

This CURE studies the interactions between groundwater and surface water that have an impact on the quality and sustainability of water resources. Several sites can be studied in this CURE, including research conducted at Town Creek near ECU.

Sedimentology (GEOL 4010/4011), Catherine Rigsby

Students collect data during field trips to two modern sediment deposition environments. In addition, the samples collected during these trips are processed in the laboratory. The data is incorporated into the published observations / literature to produce a journal style article, including student produced maps / diagrams.

News and Notes on Cures


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