Independent Research Period (IRP)

"This World is not Conclusion." -- Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, American Poet (1830 - 1886)


Real research, real results, real discoveries – reality chemistry!

For the last ten years, students taking sophomore organic chemistry labs at Andrews University have been part of an innovative curriculum development called Independent Research Periods or IRPs. Traditional ‘cookbook’ labs, some used generations ago, where the results are known, were completely replaced with real experimental labs, where the outcome is more open-ended.

IRPs provide students with the unique opportunity to actively participate in 16 weeks of authentic laboratory research in original organic synthesis. Based on the success of this initiative at the college level, BEST also implemented IRPs for high school seniors over the last four years at the Berrien County Math Science Center. This was also very well-received by students, administrators and was recognized as a finalist in Business Review’s Innovation Michigan Exposition in 2007.



For well over 85% of students, doing an IRP project is their first hands-on experience conducting independent laboratory research. IRP projects are generally done in teams of twos or threes, with each member independently responsible and accountable for their own project. IRPs provide students with an important opportunity to contextualize textbook knowledge into practical, real-world research experiences by relating, experiencing, applying, cooperating, and transforming.


Some key organizational elements of IRPs that students must complete are: entry and exit surveys, project proposal, project cost analysis, oral research presentation, weekly progress reports, a final project report and a nontechnical newspaper article about their research and IRP experience. In addition, students are engaged in discussion and/or writing exercises about the nature of science, safety, critical thinking, ethics and integrity in science, the importance of documentation and other processes that are essential parts of a scientist ‘day at the job.’


In Their Words - 2007 Grade 12 IRPs


"I found the experience of researching in my chemistry class to be unique and educational.  In my high school, I would never have had the opportunity to work in a well-resourced lab experimenting.  Next year, I plan to attend the school of engineering at the University of Michigan to major in biomedical engineering. Having been able to take a research class was a great advantage to me. " - Alia Zander, Edwardsburg HS


"I felt this class was a great help in preparation for college study. I am now much better prepared for college labs. The knowledge of these experiments will benefit my future career as a chemical engineer. I cannot wait to go to college and use the knowledge that I have gained to further my education. I feel that this class was very worthwhile and anyone who takes it would benefit from what it has to offer." - Brian Wieger, Brandywine HS


"My last year at Andrews University Math & Science Center was fun. I was very interested in doing this because I have wanted to take part in my own independent chemistry project. During this class, I learned that what you expect to accomplish at the beginning, is not always what you will accomplish at the end. In fact, I was sad at the end because I had to leave my beautiful golden-colored product behind with Dr. Murray!" - Nikia Davis, Benton Harbor HS


"This semester’s Bioorganic Chemistry course has been very beneficial to me as a student entering college within less than four months.  Until January, I hadn’t ever experienced a lab-based class.  Because of my experiences in the lab, I now feel much more prepared for the college setting. For the most part, high school teachers have held our hands through the last four years.  This is why the class has been so beneficial to me.  It taught me to think and work independently." - Michael Tanke, Niles HS


In Their Words - OChem IRPs


"Our experience doing this IRP research project was truly a memorable one; one we will never forget. Doing these experiments taught us patience and consistency. It was a great opportunity to experience organic chemistry research hands-on, which is the true essence of science. As future doctors and leaders within science being involved in research gave experience and knowledge that cannot be found from just reading a chemistry book."- Chris White, Norman Spence, Derrick Harkless ('09 IRP)


"... the setting for our melodrama was none other than a research lab and the initially lost and confused heroines were able to learn to navigate the lab on their own. No longer did the ominous bottles sporting skulls indicative of danger give them more than a few seconds pause. No longer was minor setback cause for concern. They were researchers, and setbacks are part of every research story. Somewhere along the path, they realized that this project was never really about the treasure at the end, it was about the journey and the discoveries made along the way, putrid smells and all." - Gretchen Bell, Andrea Christensen ('09 IRP)


"We felt that this was a great way to understand how different reactions worked. Not only did it help us in this class, but it was a valuable tool in showing us how important science is. It also helped us to work together with the professor and gain more knowledge than just classroom knowledge. It gave us a great opportunity to get hands on experience in the lab.  In the end, more than just products were made in the lab. Valuable lessons about conducting research, such as, careful observation and scientific integrity, were also learned." - Michael Lee, Kristin Lee, Johnathan Chang ('08 IRP)


"Never having done any research previously, we entered this project with low expectations.  However, we were pleasantly surprised.  The experience was very laid-back and we had many good times.  If asked to partake in another research project we would not be as hesitant about entering into the process.  We learned many valuable techniques, in the lab and in writing research papers.  Although, we were not able to meet all of our research goals, we developed a positive outlook on future research and the work we accomplished this semester." - Deanna Marks, Mindy Kutzner ('08 IRP)