Enhancing Interdisciplinary and Systems Thinking with an Integrative Plant Chemistry Module Applied in Diverse Undergraduate Course Settings

Lucas Busta, Sabrina E. Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


To meet the complex global challenges that workers in STEM fields face, it is critical that today's students develop integrative technical skills and cognitive competencies. As a highly interdisciplinary field, medicinal plant chemistry provides an exceptionally rich environment for such training. Here, we describe a hands-on medicinal plant chemistry laboratory module (Phytochemical Laboratory Activities for iNtegrative Thinking and Enhanced Competencies; PLANTEC) for undergraduates that targets the development of core competencies in (i) logical thinking and analysis of text and data, (ii) interdisciplinary and systems thinking, (iii) oral and written communication of science, and (iv) teamwork and collaboration. Each student determines the natural product profile of a plant species using thin layer chromatography and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Students work in pairs and small groups to analyze their data and interpret their findings in chemical, biochemical, and biological contexts. PLANTEC is scalable and so can be offered in laboratory or lecture courses, and even partially or entirely online. We implemented this module in an undergraduate biology lecture course over six 50 min lessons in the fall semesters of both 2018 and 2019. We also experimented with modifications of PLANTEC to tailor learning objectives and thereby emphasize different disciplines during data interpretation (e.g., plant chemistry, ecology, evolution). Students consistently responded that PLANTEC increased not only their confidence in analyzing, interpreting, discussing, and writing about new kinds of data and complex ideas but also their interest in medicinal plant chemistry. Interdisciplinary laboratory modules of this type will be particularly useful in developing an innovative and versatile STEM workforce of the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4406-4413
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 8 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:


  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Bioanalytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Communication/Writing
  • Curriculum
  • Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives
  • Plant Chemistry
  • Upper-Division Undergraduate


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