Microbes in Mascara: Hypothesis-Driven Research in a Nonmajor Biology Lab †
In this laboratory exercise, students were taught concepts of microbiology and scientific process through an everyday activity — cosmetic use. The students’ goals for the lab were to develop a hypothesis regarding microbial contamination in cosmetics, learn techniques to culture and differentiate microorganisms from cosmetics, and propose best practices in cosmetics use based on their findings. Prior to the lab, students took a pretest to assess their knowledge of scientific hypotheses, microbiology, and cosmetic safety. In the first week, students were introduced to microbiological concepts and methodologies, and cosmetic terminology and safety. Students completed a hypothesis-writing exercise before formulating and testing their own hypotheses regarding cosmetic contamination. Students provided a cosmetic of their own and, in consultation with their lab group, chose one product for testing. Samples were serially diluted and plated on a variety of selective media. In the second week, students analyzed their plates to determine the presence and diversity of microbes and if their hypotheses were supported. Students completed a worksheet of their results and were given a posttest to assess their knowledge. Average test scores improved from 5.2 (pretest) to 7.8 (posttest), with p-values < 0.0001. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of students correctly identified hypotheses that were not falsifiable or lacked variables, and 89% of students improved their scores on questions concerning safe cosmetic use. Ninety-one percent (91%) of students demonstrated increased knowledge of microbial concepts and methods. Based on our results, this lab is an easy, yet effective, way to enhance knowledge of scientific concepts for nonmajors, while maintaining relevance to everyday life.
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