MB 460 : Scientific Inquiry in Microbiology : At the Bench


Fall 2013




The problem this course is being designed to solve is the familiar catch-22: students find it difficult to get research experience because faculty or other potential mentors are reluctant to bring completely inexperienced students into the lab. The goal of this class, then, is to prepare undergraduate students for laboratory research so that they are attractive candidates for internships, co-ops, REUs, and undergraduate research on campus, and so initiate the process of their becoming productive scientists in industrial, academic, or government labs.

The purpose of the course wouldn't be to teach any particular methods or system, or familiarize students with any particular sub-discipline of microbiology, but rather to teach students about scientific questions, controls and variables, designing, preparing for and carrying out experiments, keeping a notebook, interpreting results, and presenting their findings. In other words, the pragmatic things a student has to know in order to work efficiently in a research lab regardless of discipline. The target audience for this course will be students who may have taken General Microbiology but prior to undergraduate research or internships. This course would also count toward either the "Laboratory elective" or "Microbiology elective" requirements of the NCSU Microbiology curriculum.

The experimental system of choice for this class is the bacterial growth curve. The growth curve is a fundamental aspect of microbiology with limitless facets for exploration.

After taking this course, students would be attractive candidates for undergraduate research positions in academic, industrial or government labs, and well-prepared to quickly become productive members of whatever research group they join. In biochemical terms, then, the purpose of this course will be to lower the students activation energy "barrier" of obtaining a research position, and so catalyze their entry into the scientific workforce or post-graduate scientific education.


The intended outcome of this course would be the preparation of students for undergraduate research, internships or co-ops. In specific, after this course students should be able to:

  1. formulate meaningful and testable scientific questions/hypotheses,
  2. design experimental tests to answer these questions, including appropriate controls and manipulations of variables,
  3. create experimental plans
  4. design and prepare all materials required to carry out an experimental plan,
  5. actually carry out experiments according to plan,
  6. collect and critically interpret experimental data,
  7. use their interpretation of the data to refine or formulate new questions/hypotheses for further testing,
  8. keep an appropriate laboratory notebook,
  9. summarize their work and describe their findings in written and oral presentations.


This class will have integrated lecture, discussion, and lab time.

During lecture time, we will discuss basic aspects of working in a research lab: lab organization and procedures, general lab equipment, organization and keeping notes, controls and how to set up an experiment, reagent planning and preparation, &c. Also included, in a less formal atmosphere, will be discussions of lab personal dynamics, staying organized in a lab, ethical issues that might arise, communicating effectively with peers and supervisors, &c.

The laboratory portion of the course will start out with safety and introductory material, but as quickly as possible the students will set up and run a basic growth curve, and review the data collected. From here, each student will be asked to formulate a simple testable question or hypothesis about this preliminary growth curve. The students will then design an experiment to answer this question or test the hypothesis, and create a plan for carrying out this test. They will have to create a list of required materials & reagents, and gather these items (including reagent preparation), and then carry out their experiment according to this plan. They will review their results, re-evaluate their initial questions on the basis of their results, and either reformulate their questions, or formulate the next logical question. This process of question, experimental design, test, evaluation, re-question will be repeated for as many cycles as time permits. The questions and direction of each project will be up to the students, with the guidance and advice of the instructor.

At the end of the semester, each group will create "Powerpoint" presentations of their work, which will be presented in two sessions during the last week of class. In addition, each group will write up their work in the form of a regular research "note" as if for publication.


Dr. Brown

James W Brown
Associate Professor
Interim Associate Head, Department of Biological Sciences
Director of Undergraduate Microbiology Programs
4550 Thomas Hall
Office: 515-8803 Cell: 749-3172 Fax: 515-7867
Office hours by appointment : see


  • Mondays and Wednesdays 10:15AM - 11:05AM in 1522 Thomas Hall
  • Fridays 10:15AM - 12:10PM in 1522 Thomas Hall



At the Bench: A laboratory Navigator, updated edition - Kathy Barker
Edition: 2
ISBN: 978-087969708-2
Web Link
Cost: $59

Optional: (recommended for those who wish to continue in research)

Lab Ref, Volume 1: A handbook of recipes, reagents, and other reference tools for use at the bench - Jane Roskams and Linda Rodgers, eds
Edition: 6
ISBN: 978-087969630-6
Web Link
Cost: $39


MB 352: General Microbiology laboratory recommended but not required


Microbiology majors only, or by permission


Laboratory rules and precautions will be reviewed in the first lab period, each student will sign off on a copy of the Lab Safety Review Sheet, and these practices will be enforced throughout the semester.


This course does not fulfill a General Education Program category or co-requisite.


This course will not require students to provide their own transportation. Non-scheduled class time for field trips or out-of-class activities is NOT required for this class.


Grading components :

Component Weight Description
Midtern exam 20 Take-home exam
Final Exam 20 Take-home exam
Preliminary notebook 10 A preliminary grading of your lab notebook to date. Graded, but designed primarily to provide constructive feedback
Lab notebook 20 Final review of your lab notebook
Presentation 15 "Lab meeting" presentation during the last week of classes
Written report 15 Written summary of your project in the form of a short scientific paper (a "note")

Grading scale (this course uses standard NCSU letter grading):

97 A+ 100
93 A < 97
90 A- < 93
87 B+ < 90
83 B < 87
80 B- < 83
77 C+ < 80
73 C < 77
70 C- < 73
67 D+ < 70
63 D < 67
60 D- < 63
0 F < 60

S/U Grading

In order to receive a grade of S, students taking this class pass/fail (S/U) are required to take all exams and quizzes, complete all assignments, and earn a grade of C- or better. Conversion from letter grading to credit only (S/U) grading is subject to university deadlines. Refer to the Registration and Records calendar for deadlines related to grading. For more details refer to


Information about and requirements for auditing a course can be found at

Incomplete Grades

If an extended deadline is not authorized by the instructor or department, an unfinished incomplete grade will automatically change to an F after either (a) the end of the next regular semester in which the student is enrolled (not including summer sessions), or (b) the end of 12 months if the student is not enrolled, whichever is shorter. Incompletes that change to F will count as an attempted course on transcripts. The burden of fulfilling an incomplete grade is the responsibility of the student. The university policy on incomplete grades is located at

Late Assignments

Late work will lose 10% of the maximum possible score for each day or part of a day late, and including weekend days. After one week, the assignment will not be accepted and will be given a grade of zero. No extra credit will be given.


Attendance every week is expected, but attendance will not be recorded or used in determining grades. Keep in mind, however, that your cultures won't stop & wait for some future day, and if you miss days you remain responsible for the material for that day.

Students who are absent without a formal excuse are still subject to exam and assignment deadlines and late fines.

Students who are absent with a formal excuse will be given one extra week to turn in their assignments or take exams, or as negotiated with the instructor.


Students are required to comply with the university policy on academic integrity found in the Code of Student Conduct found at


See for a detailed explanation of academic honesty.

Honor pledge

Your signature on any test or assignment indicates "I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this test or assignment."

Electronically-Hosted Course Components

There are no electronically-hosted components for this course.


Reasonable accommodations will be made for students with verifiable disabilities. In order to take advantage of available accommodations, student must register with the Disability Services Office ( located at 1900 Student Health Center, Campus Box 7509, 515-7653. For more information on NC State's policy on working with students with disabilities, please see the Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities Regulation at


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