CHE 496--Undergraduate Research in Chemistry/Biochemistry

Office Hours
Please schedule appointments via email.

Drop Date
The drop date for undergraduate research is the same as any other course.

The prerequisite for CHE 496 is CHE 410, chemical safety, as well as senior standing. Before beginning this course, the student must read the undergraduate research guidelines on the department website (

Credit Hours
CHE 496 may be taken for 1-3 hours credit and may be repeated once. At least three hours are required to count as the departmental capstone course. Although not required, students are encouraged to take two semesters of CHE 496.

Course Overview
CHE 496 counts as the capstone course of the undergraduate curriculum in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This is because research ties together the theory from the classroom and the techniques learned in the teaching labs. The experience of undergraduate research will benefit not only students planning on a research career, but also students planning any career in the sciences, both basic and health-related.

University requirements for a capstone course include writing of at least 5000 words and at least two graded oral presentations of which one must be public. The writing requirement is met in this course by a combination of the laboratory notebook, any reports in writing required by the advisor (e.g. weekly or monthly progress reports), and the final report. The notebook does not count toward the 5000 word minimum. The public oral presentation requirement can be met in a number of venues such as the departmental undergraduate symposium, senior honors symposium, the Mississippi Academy of Sciences, etc. The writing requirement and oral presentation requirement satisfies the GEC student learning outcomes 1a and 1b for general course requirements. Students taking two semesters of CHE 496 must provide an interim report at the end of the first semester and a full report at the end of the second semester.

Students are strongly encouraged to utilize the USM Speaking Center and the USM Writing Center for assistance. Both are located in Cook Library.

Course Objectives
At the end of the course you will be able to

  • Read a scientific journal article in chemistry or biochemistry
  • Plan new experiments, carry them out safely, and interpret the data obtained
  • Keep a complete and understandable laboratory notebook
  • Develop and focus on one topic in speaking and writing assignments and present ideas in an organized, logical, and coherent form
  • Standard English grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage

Required Text (s) and Readings

  • Your research advisor will assign specific background reading and journal articles.
  • Undergraduate research guidelines on the department website
  • Instructions for authors of the journal your advisor selects for your final report format

Class Procedures and Requirements

Laboratory research

  • Safety awareness- Students should familiarize themselves with the safety features of the laboratory and wear appropriate clothing and safety equipment, particularly eye protection, when in the laboratory. Students should also be aware of the toxicity of any chemicals they work with.
  • Work ethic- Students should plan to work at least 10 hrs/week in the laboratory and to make efficient use of their time.
  • Group meeting- Students are expected to participate in meetings of their research group and to be familiar with the pertinent scientific literature as directed by their research advisor.
  • Laboratory skills- Students will learn to plan and carry out their own experiments, and interpret the data acquired.
  • Notebook- Students will keep a dated record in a bound notebook of all laboratory experiments including protocols, calculations, results, and conclusions.

Oral presentations
Students must make at least two graded oral presentations of their research (one must be public).Documentation of the public presentations should be included in the final report.

This documentation can be the flyer announcing the end-of-the-semester undergraduate symposium, a copy of the abstract page from a scientific meeting, etc. It must clearly indicate that you gave an oral presentation and were not just listed as a coauthor.

Final Report (Thesis)
The thesis should detail the research conducted by the student and will be judged by the soundness of the research procedure followed, and the thoroughness and clarity of thought evident in analyzing and critically evaluating the project results. It should be written in the style of a major scientific journal in the area. Examples of such journals might be the Journal of Physical Chemistry, the Journal of Organic Chemistry, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, etc. The thesis will normally be a minimum of 20 double-spaced pages long. The page minimum includes abstract and references but not cover page or figures. The thesis should also include a bibliography of not less than 10 primary literature references which are both current and complete, including titles.

Students taking CHE 496 are expected to maintain a professional attitude, and contribute to a safe and collegial research environment. The chemistry and biochemistry research laboratories have numerous potential dangers, and the research student needs to recognize possible hazards and be familiar with safety equipment and procedures. Likewise, research is naturally about the discovery of new things, some of which will have potential commercial applications. It is critically important, therefore, that research students properly design and carry out their experiments, document their findings carefully, and report them clearly in oral and written reports.

Evaluation Criteria
Grades will be assessed based on the following categories. It is the responsibility of the student to discuss with their research advisor the weightings that he/she will apply to each of the categories. The student must discuss what is expected in each category with their research advisor.

  • Laboratory Skills
  • Work Ethic
  • Safety Awareness
  • Group Participation
  • Notebook
  • Final Report
  • Oral Presentations (one must be public)
  • Experimental Design
  • Data Interpretation

Three appendices are attached to this syllabus in the pdf version only. They are rubrics which faculty use to evaluate research, writing and speaking. You should read them carefully.

“When cheating is discovered, the faculty member may give the student an F on the work involved or in the course. If further disciplinary action is deemed appropriate, the student should be reported to the Dean of Students. In addition to being a violation of academic honesty, cheating violates the Code of Student Conduct and may be grounds for probation, suspension, and/or expulsion. Students on disciplinary suspension may not enroll in any courses offered by The University of Southern Mississippi.”

A research course offers a different dimension of academic honesty. Students must avoid misconduct such as plagiarism of research articles and reports by other students, falsification or fabrication of research results, etc. A good sampling of research ethics materials is available at the website of Dr. Samuel Bruton here.

ADA Syllabus Statement
If a student has a disability that qualifies under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and requires accommodations, he/she should contact the Office for Disability Accommodations (ODA) for information on appropriate policies and procedures. Disabilities covered by ADA may include learning, psychiatric, physical disabilities, or chronic health disorders. Students can contact ODA if they are not certain whether a medical condition/disability qualifies.

The University of Southern Mississippi
Office for Disability Accommodations
118 College Drive # 8586
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001
Voice Telephone: (601) 266-5024 or (228) 214-3232 Fax: (601) 266-6035

Individuals with hearing impairments can contact ODA using the Mississippi Relay Service at 1-800-582-2233 (TTY) or email Suzy Hebert at

Departmental Statement on Pregnancy and Safety in the Chemistry Laboratory
“The safety of all experiments is carefully considered, but all effects of all reagents used are not currently known. Therefore, if you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant during this semester, we suggest you consider consulting your physician regarding remaining in this lab. If your doctor recommends in writing that you not be enrolled in this lab, you will be allowed to complete the laboratory requirement at a later semester.”

Senior Honors
Completion of CHE 496H satisfies the research and thesis requirements for senior honors in the Honors College, assuming that the final report is formatted to conform to Honors College guidelines. The comprehensive exam requirement is handled separately, although the examination committee will normally review the thesis prior to the exam.