Course Description for au science Projects

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Course Description


AU Science Projects


BIOL 495/496: Biology Projects

CHEM 495/496: Chemistry Projects

ENSC 495/496: Environmental Science Projects

SCIE 495/496: Science Projects

For further information, please contact Course Co-ordinator for:

Course Name

Course ID

Astronomy and Astrophysics Projects

ASTR 495/496

Biology Projects

BIOL 495/496

Chemistry Projects

CHEM 495/496

Environmental Science Projects

ENSC 495/496

Geography Projects

GEOG 495/496

Geology Projects

GEOL 495/496

Mathematics Projects

MATH 495/496

Nutrition Projects

NUTR 495/496

Physics Projects

PHYS 495/496

Science Projects

SCIE 495/496

Centre for Science

Athabasca University

I University Drive

Athabasca, Alberta

Canada, T9S 3A3

Telephone: (780) 675-6111 or 1-800-788-9041 (students and inquiries)

Fax: (780) 675-6186


Author: Robert G. Holmberg


This course was initiated by Dr. T. S. Bakshi and Dr. R. G. Holmberg in 1975. Its form was influenced by Dr. Dan Coldeway. Experience with students has resulted in several changes and improvements.

Every effort has been taken to ensure that these materials comply with the requirements of copyright clearances and appropriate credits. Athabasca University will attempt to incorporate in future editions any corrections that are communicated to the Course Co-ordinator.
The inclusion of any material n this publication is strictly in accord with the consents obtained and Athabasca University does not authorize or license any further reproduction or use without the consent of the copyright holder.
© Athabasca University 2004

All rights reserved

Introduction 4

What is a Project Course? 4

What is an AU Science Project Course? 4

Role of the Student 5

Role of the Course Co-ordinator 6

Role of the Project Supervisor 6

Learning Contract 6

Project Application 6

Sample Project Application #1 7

Sample Project Application #2 9

Sample Project Application #3 11

Schedule of Events 13

Ideas for Projects 15


Thank you for your interest in AU Science Projects. This detailed course description is designed to describe how these science projects courses are organized, and how you, a potential student, should prepare a project application or proposal.

What is a Project Course?

A project course differs from other university courses in that a particular subject is researched in considerable depth. Rather than a group of students, project courses usually involve individual students. Such courses personalize learning and encourage development of both intellectual and technical skills.

In most university courses, students have very little or no choices in what topics are covered and how evaluation of their learning will be assessed. Project course allow students a great deal of flexibility in what and how they learn as well as how they will be assessed. With the help of a professor, students learn to tackle a defined topic. Together, the student and supervisor work out what will be studied, how the topic will be researched, what will be the outcomes (e.g. reports, videos, experiments, computer programs), when various aspects of the project should be completed, and how the final results should be evaluated. Project courses are usually designed for senior undergraduate students who have learned a great deal of some discipline but want to apply their skills and knowledge in researching a particular subject in detail. In many universities, such courses may be called “special topics” courses or undergraduate theses. Such courses may allow students to do things that no one else has done before.
What is an AU Science Project Course?

At Athabasca University our science project courses are similar to most project courses as described above. They are advanced courses, intended for students who have already had considerable university background in some area of science. The prerequisites for the 495 courses vary from 12 to 18 university-level credits (see the Calendar or specific course syllabus for details). The prerequisite for the 496 courses is the completion of their corresponding 495 courses. These project courses are student-initiated and are based on a contracted-study arrangement worked out between three people: an individual student, an approved Project Supervisor, and a representative of Athabasca University, the Course Co-ordinator. These courses allow students to continue at their jobs, and may even allow them to use their jobs in their learning activities. A project has to be new work. In other words, a project cannot just document work that has been done in the past; although skills learned in the past may be applied in a project. A project outcome (e.g. a report) cannot contain information that must be kept secret, e.g. trade secrets, proprietary software.

These project courses will help students to:

  1. Improve their skills in initiating, planning, carrying out, and reporting on an aspect of science in which they are particularly interested.

  2. Obtain formal recognition for some science-related skills or training that they have achieved through employment in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, manufacturing, mining and nursing.

In the process of completing a project, students will improve their skills in:

  1. Choosing problems or tasks that they are capable of completing within certain time constraints.

  2. Using libraries, museums, books, tapes, computer databases, television, interviews, and other available resources to obtain information.

  3. Criticizing scientific literature and methods.

  4. Planning methods to test hypotheses.

  5. Organizing facts and ideas for criticizing statements.

  6. Reporting ideas and conclusions to others.

By planning a project and carrying it out, students will also experience some of the problems faced by scientists.

A project may involve any combination of library, field, and laboratory work, as agreed to by the student, the Project Supervisor, and the Course Co-ordinator. This agreement is prepared in a written form by the student and is called a “Learning Contract”. A Learning Contract states what is to be done in the project, how and when it will be done, and how it will be evaluated. Although the University may provide some help (e.g. interlibrary loans), students are required to obtain and pay for all materials used in their project. Enrolment may take place at any time during the year, but before enrolling, students must submit an acceptable “Application to Enroll in a Science Project” to the Course Co-ordinator. The project Application is, in effect, the first stage in the preparation of a Learning Contract.
In the Centre for Science we have the following project courses. This document deals with those marked with an asterisk. For those without an asterisk, please contact the relevant Course Co-ordinator.
ASTR 495/496: Astronomy and Astrophysics Projects

BIOL 495/496: Biology Projects*

CHEM 495/496: Chemistry projects*

ENSC 495/496: Environmental Science Projects*

GEOG 495/496: Geography Projects

GEOL 495/496: Geology Projects

MATH 495/496: Mathematics Projects

NUTR 495/496: Nutrition Projects

PHYS 495/496: Physics Projects

SCIE 495/496: Science Projects*

In the Centre for Computing & Information Systems, they have a similar pair of courses:

COMP 495/496: Computer and Information System Projects. See their website.

Role of the Student

A student in these courses is expected to:

  1. Completely and accurately fill out the Application to Enroll in a Science Course.

  2. Find a possible Project Supervisor and explain what he/she (i.e., the student) plans to do and basically how the AU science project courses operate.

  3. After approval of the application by the Project Supervisor and the Course Co-ordinator, prepare a Learning Contract. This done with the help of the Project Supervisor.

  4. After the Project Supervisor and Course Co-ordinator approve the Learning Contract, complete the activities listed in the Learning Contract. This may include keeping the Project Supervisor updated on the project’s progress on a regular basis. Project activities must include a written report.

  5. Be a responsible scholar, including citing references properly and not plagiarizing.

  6. Agree to allow the posting of an abstract of his/her project on an Athabasca University website.

Role of the Course Co-ordinator

The Course Co-ordinator is one of the professors in the Centre of Science of Athabasca University. His/her role is to ensure that:

  1. Students have sufficient backgrounds for probable success in the area of research chosen.

  2. A qualified and willing person serves as a Project Supervisor.

  3. A fair and reasonable Learning Contract is prepared and followed by both the student and the Project Supervisor.

  4. The student’s results are evaluated fairly and credit is granted where credit is due.

On occasion the Course Co-ordinator may also serve as a Project Supervisor.

Role of the Project Supervisor

The role of the Project Supervisor is to:

  1. Assist the student in preparing a Learning Contract that has clear and obtainable objectives, including a break down of the evaluation scheme.

  2. Help identify materials (e.g., books, videotapes, periodicals, equipment) that will help the student fulfill the Learning Contract.

  3. Provide information and feedback (verbal, written or both) to the student to help him/her complete the project successfully. This should be at least onec each month after the Learning Contract is approved.

  4. Ensure that student abides by the rules of academic honesty, i.e. proper citation and no plagiarism.

  5. Evaluate the project with respect to the objectives and evaluation scheme agreed upon in the Learning Contract, and assign a tentative percentage grade.

The Project Supervisor acts as a representative of Athabasca University but may or may not be an employee of the University. (If not an employee of the University, the Project Supervisor is offered a small honorarium. If a honoraium is made, the Project Supervisor must provide the University with a Social Insurance Number for taxation purposes. ) A Project Supervisor must have a masters degree or doctorate in the area in which the student wishes to study.

Learning Contract

In AU Science Projects, a Learning Contract is a written agreement prepared by a student and approved by the Project Supervisor and Course Co-ordinator. A Learning Contract states the learning objectives, activities to be done, time lines, and criteria for evaluating the project. A Student Manual containing information and examples of Learning Contracts is available to students after their project application is accepted.

Project Application

Following this section are three examples of hypothetical project application forms. Although the people referred to in these forms are fictitious, the examples do reflect the range of projects that students propose. Please note that all of these examples are very brief. If you can supply more details about what you would like to do, please do so; the more information the better. Application forms are on our Science Project website.

Sample Project Application #1
A. Course applied for: BIOL 495
B. Name

John Brooks

Athabasca University Student Identification Number



Box 100

Lethbridge, Alberta T1A 1B1

Telephone number

(403) 987–6543; I can usually be reached most evenings between 6 and 9 PM


General background and educational goals

I am a cattle rancher and have a partial B.Sc. degree in agriculture. I am trying to finish my degree within the next 1-2 years. Recently, I have become interested in the applications and effects of growth hormones currently being used in the dairy industry.

Completed university-level science courses

Introductory biology (1 full course), introductory chemistry (1 full course), organic chemistry (1 full course), statistics (1/2 course), horticulture (1/2 course), animal husbandry (2 ½ courses) and dairy science (2 ½ courses), taken about 5 years ago at the University of Saskatchewan; Biology 401 (3 credits) from Athabasca University, within the last year.

C. Specific problem to be solved, question to be answered, or topic to be discussed

I would like to learn more about how growth hormones are being used in the dairy industry, advantages and disadvantages of using these hormones, and how such technology could be applied to beef cattle, horses and sheep.

Methods to be used

Library research; recent materials from newspapers and the Internet; interviews with local dairy farmers currently considering using bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). I am thinking of doing a small experiment using Angus cattle.

Materials to be used

I can use the libraries at Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge. If I do an experiment, I have cattle from my ranch and can consult with the local veterinarian. I have a computer with access to the Internet.

Proposed outcomes

I will write a report on my library and Internet research. I will make a separate section consisting of summaries of my interviews. If I do an experiment, the experimental report would be the third outcome.
D. Possible Project Supervisor

Dr. Alfred Drummond

I have spoken with Dr. Drummond about this project and he has tentatively agreed to be my Project Supervisor.
Expertise of proposed Project Supervisor in the area of study

Dr. Drummond has a Ph. D. degree from the University of Saskatchewan where he was my professor in Dairy Science. He has done experimental work in dairy technologies and dairy product quality control, and has helped local dairy farmers implement BGH programs.


District Agriculturalist

Alberta Agriculture Office

123-23 Street,

Lethbridge, Alberta T1A 2B2

Telephone number

(403) 987–1234; usually in the office mornings, Monday to Friday

E. Expected project start date

Fall of this year or sooner.

Expected project completion date

Within 6 months of enrolling.

(Date and signature)

Sample Project Application #2
A. Course applied for: CHEM 495
B. Name

Sue Kenney

Athabasca University Student Identification Number



274 Avenue H

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S0M 1N1

Telephone number


General background and educational goals

I am a laboratory technician at the University Hospital and have gradually learned on-the-job (and in a few workshops given by the hospital) a number of commonly used techniques for the sequencing of DNA nucleotides for gene analysis. I would like to obtain some formal recognition for my technical skills.

Completed university-level science courses

First and second year biology (12 credits) and chemistry (12 credits) courses at the University of British Columbia (1995-96), as well as a 2-year technical certificate in molecular lab technology from Saskatchewan Technical Institute (1998-99).

C. Specific problem to be solved, question to be answered, or topic to be discussed

I wish to analyze a portion of human mitochondrial DNA using at least five different techniques and compare their strengths and weaknesses.

Methods to be used

Methods include gel electrophoresis, gas chromatography, ELISA, . . .

Materials to be used

I have access to the University of Saskatchewan Library, as well as lab space at U of S.

These include enzymes, dyes, pipettes, gels, uv lamps, gas chromatograph, etc. applicable to DNA work.

Proposed outcomes

Results from each of the techniques, a report comparing the methods.
D. Possible Project Supervisor

Dr. S.E. Schneider

Dr. Schneider has been informed about this proposed project. She has agreed to be my Project Supervisor.
Expertise of proposed Project Supervisor in the area of study

Dr. Schneider supervises all of the research carried out in the lab in which I work, and is in charge of research projects carried out at the hospital. She has a Ph.D. in cytology.



Dr. S. E. Schneider

Head, Research Division

University of Saskatchewan Hospital

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

S0A 1S3

Telephone number

(306) 333–4111

E. Expected project start date

Within the next three months.

Expected project completion date

Five or six months after registration.

(Date and signature)
Sample Project Application #3

A. Course applied for: GEOL 495

B. Name

Stanley Hoekman

Athabasca University Student Identification Number



33 Poplar Avenue

Richmond, BC V1A 0M0


604 321-4444


General background and educational goals

I need one more senior level science course to finish my B.Sc. from Laurentian University but now have a job on the west coast. Thus I cannot attend regular classes.

Completed university-level courses

I have 18 courses in geology, physical geography and chemistry (1998-2002).
C. Specific problem to be solved, question to be answered, or topic to be discussed:

I am very interested in oil, including its formation, chemistry, location, removal, and refining.

Methods to be used

Library research.

Materials to be used

Library at UBC, local Shell Oil library (using only documents available to the public).

Proposed outcomes

A written report on the geology and extraction of offshore oil deposits along the west coast of North America.

D. Possible Project Supervisor:

Mr. C. Crispus who has agreed to supervise me in this project.

Expertise of proposed Project supervisor in the area of study

Mr. Crispus has a masters degree in geology from the University of Alberta and has worked in the oil industry for 15 years. He now has primary responsibility in management but has experience with drilling offshore.


Division Manager, Oil Operations

Shell Oil

1234 Stanley Street

Vancouver, BC V1A 2B3

Telephone number

604 432–1234; Mondays to Fridays in the afternoons


E. Expected project start time

Any time soon

Expected project completion date

No rush
(Date and signature)

Schedule of Events

The following schedule provides a brief description of the events that most projects go through. Although there may seem to be many steps and check-points, they are all there for your benefit. Also, the more you know about the procedures, the less should go wrong.

  1. A student learns that a project course is available at Athabasca University and wishes to know more.

  2. The student obtains the AU Science Project Course Description and reads it.

You are here already!

  1. He/she contacts the appropriate Course Co-ordinator by telephone to discuss a possible project.

  2. The student selects a possible topic and finds and contacts a potential Project Supervisor. The student describes what he/she wishes to do and asks if the person wishes to be a Project Supervisor.

  3. When the student finds a possible project and Project Supervisor, he/she submits an “Application to Enroll in a Science Project” to the relevant Course Co-ordinator.

Note: You must submit your application at least one month before you plan to start the project.

  1. The Course Co-ordinator reads the proposal and contacts the proposed Project Supervisor. The Course Co-ordinator determines if the project is feasible and is worth three senior-level science credits as well as if the background of the student is sufficient to do the work. In addition, the Course Co-ordinator determines if the Project Supervisor is acceptable and he/she agrees to acting as a Project Supervisor under Athabasca University’s terms.

  2. If the above five points are accepted, the Course Co-ordinator informs the student and asks him/her to register in Athabasca University, if he or she has not already done so, and to pay the tuition fees for the specified project course. At this time, the Course Co-ordinator also sends the student a copy of the Student Manual, which gives information on how to prepare a Learning Contract. If one of the above five points are not accepted, the Course Co-ordinator asks the student to submit another application, perhaps at a later date.

  3. The student contacts the Project Supervisor and they meet, probably several times. Together they come to agree on a Learning Contract that states the objectives of the project, how the objectives are to be achieved, the outcomes of the project, the evaluation procedure, and the deadline for the outcomes.

  4. The student submits the Learning Contract, with some indication of acceptance by the Project Supervisor, to the Course Coordinator for approval.

  5. The Course Co-ordinator reads the Learning Contract. If the Course Co-ordinator approves the contract, he/she asks the student to start work on the project. If the Course Co-ordinator does not approve the Learning Contract, he/she will point out the reasons why, suggest changes, and ask the student and Project Supervisor to reconsider the contract.

Notes: Many Learning Contracts are not approved the first time around. This is usually because the student does not provide enough detail, especially with regards to the evaluation of the project. By hard experience, we have found that if a good Learning Contract is prepared then the chances of the student successfully completing the project are much better and the Project Supervisor has a much easier time evaluating the work. The initial Learning Contract should reach the Course Co-ordinator within one month of the date the student registered in the course. We suggest that students schedule at least four months after the Learning Contract is accepted to complete a project. Although a film, model, apparatus, etc., may be one of the outcomes of a project, some kind of written project report is required. References for helping students write a report are provided in the Student Manual.

  1. The student works on his or her project, and reports regularly to the Project Supervisor.

Note: If anything goes wrong, inform your Project Supervisor immediately! The deadlines in the contract, or the contract itself, may have to be changed.

  1. The student submits all outcomes to the Project Supervisor as well as any written outcomes to the Course Co-ordinator by the deadlines agreed upon. For written outcomes, the Course Co-ordinator makes comments to the student and the Project Supervisor before the Project Supervisor assigns any recommended grades. This allows a second person to make suggestions that may be useful to the student for improving future written work and comments to the Project Supervisor that may help with the evaluation.

  2. When the student has submitted all outcomes, the Project Supervisor submits a recommended grade, based on the objectives stated in the learning Contract, to the Course Co-ordinator. Normally the Course Co-ordinator accepts this grade. Occasionally the Course Co-ordinator and Project Supervisor may discuss the final evaluation.

Note: As the Course Co-ordinator is a member of Athabasca University and the University grants the credit, the Course Co-ordinator has the final decision on what grade is assigned.

  1. The Course Co-ordinator informs the Office of the Registrar of the final grade.

  2. The student and Project Supervisor fill out the “Course Evaluation Questionnaire’ and return then to the Course Co-ordinator.

Note: It is important that students and Project Supervisors full in and return these forms. Regular evaluation helps ensure that these courses improve over time.
Ideas for Projects

If you are fresh out of ideas for projects at the moment, but would still like to do one, you might try reading books such as the following – most of which are available from the Athabasca University Library. Remember that the examples in these books are not for you to copy; rather, they are meant to stimulate your own ideas. Also, check out the completed project section of our Science Project website.

Abramoff, Peter and Robert Thompson. 1968. Investigations of Cells and Organisms: A Laboratory Study in Biology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Bibby, Cyril. 1970. Simple Experiments in Biology. Revised 2nd ed. London: Heinemann Educational Books.
Boyer, Rodney F. 1986. Modern Experimental Biochemistry. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Brewer, J. M., A. J. Peace, and R. B. Ashworth. 1974. Experimental Techniques in Biochemistry. Englewood Cliffs, N J.: Prentice-Hall.

Brush, Stephen G. , ed. 1972. Resources for the History of Physics. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England.
Clark, Elizabeth. 1973. Fieldwork in Biology: An Environmental Approach. Basingstoke, Eng.: Macmillan.
Conant, James Bryant and Leonard K. Nash, eds. 1957. Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University press.
Gabriel, Mordecai L. and Seymour Fogel, eds. 1955. Great Experiments in Biology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hail.

Jones, C. Eugene, and R. John Little, eds. 1983. Handbook of Experimental Pollination Biology. New York: Scientific and Academic Editions.

Lewis T., and L. R. Taylor, eds. 1967. Introduction to Experimental Ecology. New York: Academic Press.

Milkman, Roger, ed. 1983. Experimental Population Genetics. Stroudsburg, Penn.:

Hutchinson Ross Pub. Co.
Paetkau, Paul. 1975. Projects Source Book for Life Science. Toronto: Doubleday Canada.
Porter, J. R. and D. W. Lawlor, eds. 1991. Plant Growth: Interactions with Nutrition and Environment. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Reise, Karsten. 1985. Tidal Fiat Ecology: An Experimental Approach to Species Interactions. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Strong, C.L. 1960. The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Van Norman, Richard W. 1963. Experimental Biology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:


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