This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop entitled Faculty Workshop: Implementing Investigative Cases and Technology in Biology and Chemistry at Center for Science Education in August 2004. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: Smelly Fish

Amy, a graduate student working in an environmental lab at Southern University, has to come up with a research proposal. Southern University is located on the gulf coast of Florida. Recently there has been an increase in reported incidences of marine death at a nearby beach that is in close proximity to an electric company. The utility plant produces the majority of the energy supply for the bay area and is situated near the fishkill site. However, the Alafia river is a major waterway that pours into the gulf area. A fertilizer plant is located along this river. The university recently acquired a state of the art mass spectrometer. Amy wonders whether there is a link between the marine deaths and the facilities' activities. She believes that there is a link and begins to investigate the fish deaths using the mass spectrometer as part of her investigation.

Case Author:
Anh Pham Emory University:Center for Science Education

Case Analysis

What are the primary pollutants that are coming from the electric and or fertilizer plant? Are these pollutants toxic to marine life. Do these pollutants accumulate in marine life? What reservoirs are these analyte found? What level of detection does mass spectrometery affords? Will the mass spectrometer be sensitive enough to detect the analyte. Is the analyte ionizeable?

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals


How to approach a scientific problem. Identify the primary problem and determine what appropriate analytical methods required to solve the problem. Acquire an understanding of mass spectrometry and its limitations as an analytical tool.



Investigations and Activities

A laboratory is incorporated into the case illustrating the effects of concentration and contaminants on mass spectrometric signal and detection. Samples are prepared and submitted to the university's mass spectrometric facilities. This would allow the survey of MALDI, FAB, and electrospray ionization in mass spectrometry and the limitations of these methods in analyte detection and tolerances.



Tutorials and primers for mass spectrometry are found at:

Pew Commission report on marine pollution in the United States

Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items

1. Fishkill.jpg
2. alafia_map.jpg
3. oceanreport.pdf


Student Products

Write an EPA pamphlet educating the public on the pollutants generated by electric company and industrial fertilizer plants. This pamphlet is prepared in conjunction with producing a ten minute investigative news report that would be found on the local news channel. A project plan is submitted by each group early in the case study. Each group is required to submit a research proposal to obtain funding for the project and present their proposal to the class.

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

The pamphlet/ investigative news report and the project plan will be used to gauge the student's understanding of the project and their progress. The products will help the instructor guide the student in the developing their research proposal. The bulk of the student's assessment will be focused on the proposal and the student's group presentation of their proposal which will also be used to evaluate their assimilation of the various component's of the project. Evaluation will be based on: 10% EPA Pamphlet/Investigative Video 10% Project Outline 30% Oral Presentation (20% Facilatator, 5% Peer, 5% Self) 40% Research Proposal (20% Facilatator, 10% Peer, 10% Self) 10% Classroom Participation and Progress



The case study integrates what students have learned throughout the course. The acitivities test what the tudents have acquired and their maturity in assimilating what they have learned and apllying it to a problem.

Course name:
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Time during term:
Students in course:
Collaborative elements:
Additional notes:




Marine pollution in the United States: oceanreport.pdf

Alafia_map.jpg images/sajn_322.jpg

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