Using Brooklyn as a Living Lab: Quantification and Identification of Bacterial Species in our Environment


Faculty Member: Marie C. Montes-Matías

Proposed course:  Microbiology Laboratory (Bio 3302L)


The proposed project intends to utilize the Brooklyn Waterfront as an experimental laboratory.  Through this project students will get a better perspective on the bacterial diversity in our environment and their abundance on our ecosystem.  The activity will be designed to supplement the current syllabus for the Microbiology Laboratory.  Experimental part will take at least two weeks.  This activity will also expose students to environmental issues and the impact that contamination has in our environment. 

Week 1:  Sample collection and serial dilutions.  Students will be subdivided into different groups.  Class will travel to the river to collect samples from different locations.  This exercise will combine math and science skills.  After sample collection, students will perform the traditional microbiology technique serial dilutions.  Different concentrations of samples will be plated in LB agar and incubated for 24-48h, which allow the approximation of number of cells in a sample.  This activity will allow students to quantify the approximate number of bacterial cells in the ecosystem.  In order to supplement this exercise, students will also utilize a Spectrophotometer as an analytical instrument to approximate the number of bacterial cells in a sample measuring turbidity. 

Week 2:  Bacterial plate count and identification testing.   Plated samples will be quantified.  After quantification, different cells will be selected for analysis under the microscope.  Bacterial Gram Stain will be performed for basic cell identification and concepts like shape and number will be addressed.  This activity will allow students to identify different bacteria in the sample and the diversity of the ecosystem. 

High Impact Practices 

Undergraduate research

Collaborative assignments and projects

GenEd competencies

Knowledge development from range of interdisciplinary perspectives:  Through experimentation of their own environment, students will be able to apply the knowledge acquired in the classroom to different areas of the real world.  They will be exposed to different disciplines, such as, Microbiology, Math, and Environmental Science.

Inquiry/ Analysis:  Students will be exposed to data collection and analysis, which will help students employ scientific reasoning skills and logical thinking. 

Community Engagement: Exposure to different environmental issues and raise awareness of the importance of environmental conservation.

Communication:  Students will have the opportunity to communicate their results through scientific writing and to orally present their results. 


Assessment for this project will involve different phases.   Prior to the experimental part, students will be asked to generate a hypothesis (their results expectations) .  After the experimental part, students will be asked to write a scientific report to communicate their findings.  In addition, students will have the opportunity to engage in oral presentations to communicate their results and provide an interpretation of their findings.

5 thoughts on “Using Brooklyn as a Living Lab: Quantification and Identification of Bacterial Species in our Environment

  1. I think this a great idea! One of the experiments that I did in Microbiology was going out to the (NYC) subway (field-based?) and swabbing the railings and the seats and streaking the swabs onto plates. It was one of the best labs in that course.
    It would be interesting if they can collect samples across the City (depending if they are close to a source of course) and use that as a comparison as well. But it would be interesting to know what bacteria lurks in Brooklyn!

  2. Marie,
    Very nicely done using all the categories for high impact practices and Gen Ed competencies. You really nailed the assignment. Also, it is an interesting learning experience for the students. It’s great to get them into the community to see what is around them. So often they just don’t connect school what the outside world that is what this is all about.
    See you soon

  3. I know your students will find great value in this assignment. So many students have never been to the Brooklyn water front and this is a great way to get them there. For the assessment, will you create a rubric and if you do will you share it with your students when you distribute the assignment?

    • THank you for your comments! I will probably create a rubric, so students will be aware of what are the expectations for the project. I find rubrics useful for professors at the time of grading, but also for students at the time of doing the assigment.


  4. Good work! High impact practices and GenEd competencies are nicely addressed. We (Myself and Prof. Tsenova) also mentored a group of undergraduate students on water sample collection and bacterial analysis. As an applied mathematician, I found microbiology lab analysis very intriguing! From the project description, I think, your students will also find the lab analysis quite interesting! Once the project is over, I am also curious to see the findings! If you like, you can also check the following website:
    We also included student survey results. You may find it useful. Good Luck!

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