Pratibha Varma-Nelson, Ph.D.

Professor, Founding Executive Director of SEIRI

Research Areas:
Chemical Education | Organic Chemistry


Dr. Varma-Nelson has done extensive work in bringing Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL), a new approach to how chemistry is taught, to the teaching of chemistry. Dr. Varma-Nelson has done more than just help develop a new approach, she has worked to apply it to the teaching of numerous chemistry courses as well as developing materials to train teachers and peer leaders’ implementation. Dr. Varma-Nelson has been publishing and presenting workshops to college instructors locally, nationally, and internationally. As PLTL has grown in acceptance, Dr. Varma-Nelson has developed research projects to assess its effectiveness for both students and peer leaders. Her current work has moved PLTL into the arena of online courses.

PLTL is an approach to teaching, designed to promote active learning while engaging students in critical thinking. Unlike other teaching approaches, this method involves both the learner and the peer leaders (students who have recently completed the same course). Peer leaders grow through a re-examination of the chemistry concepts in conjunction with their faculty advisor. Questions that engage students in the understanding of chemical concepts are developed during weekly team meetings and then used with students in small groups to help them think critically about the concepts they have learned in class. This approach is not limited to a specific chemistry course. PLTL has now been adopted in a variety of STEM courses, in more than 150 colleges and universities in USA alone.

Dr. Varma-Nelson is also one of the leaders of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE) which empowered first and second year chemistry undergraduates by involving them with course-based research. The work on PLTL and CASPiE was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Her latest research in the use of PLTL in cyberspace looks at the differences between face-to-face and synchronous online PLTL sessions. Her research has revealed more similarities to the benefits of PLTL in these two environments than differences. This work was funded by NSF and Next Generation Learning Challenges (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation).

Dr. Varma-Nelson has also been involved in the development of several influential national reports for AAAS (Describing and Measuring Undergraduate STEM Teaching Practices, 2013) (Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action, 2011) and (Peer-Led Team Learning: A Student-Faculty Partnership for Transforming the Learning Environment, 2005) among others.


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, 1977-1979, “Characterization of Anhydro-Chymotrypsin”, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University, Maywood, IL
  • Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, 1978, University of Illinois at Chicago, Thesis, “Protein Ancestors: Heteropolypeptides from Hydrogen Cyanide and Water”. Advisor: Clifford Matthews
  • M.S., Chemistry, 1974, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • B.Sc., First Class, Chemistry, 1970, Poona University, India

Publications & Professional Activity


  • Wilson, S.B. and Varma-Nelson, P. (2016), Small Groups, Significant Impact: A Review of Peer-Led Team Learning Research with Implications for STEM Education Researchers and Faculty, Journal of Chemical Education, 93, 1686-1702.
  • Feder, E., Khan, I., Mazur G., Vernon, T., Janke, T., Newbrough, J., Shuck, L., Zhu, L., and Varma-Nelson, P. (2016). Accessing Collaborative Online Learning with Mobile Technology in Cyber Peer-Led Team Learning. EDUCAUSE Review, Online, 51 (2).
  • Smith, J., Wilson, S.B., Banks, J., Zhu, L., and Varma-Nelson, P. (2014). Replicating Peer-led Team Learning in Cyberspace: Research, Opportunities, and Challenges. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(6), 714-740.
  • McDaniel, J., Metcalf, S., Sours, J., Janke, T., Newbrough, J. R., Shuck, L., & Varma-Nelson, P.V. (2013). Supporting student collaboration in cyberspace: A cPLTL study of web conferencing platforms. EDUCAUSE Review Online
  • Mauser,K., Sours,J., Banks, J., Newbrough, R., Janke, T., Shuck, L., Zhu, L., Ammerman, G., and Varma-Nelson, P., “Cyber Peer-led Team learning (cPLTL): Development and Implementation”, Educause Quarterly, Vol. 34, No.4, 2011. Online Journal. Varma-Nelson, P., Hundley, S.P., & Tarr, T., “The role of centers for teaching and learning in improvement of undergraduate engineering education.” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, Annual Conference, 2011. Washington, DC: American Society for Engineering Education.
  • Gosser, D.K., Kampmeier, J.A., Varma-Nelson, P. Peer-Led Team Learning: 2008 James Flack Norris Award Address. Journal of Chemical Education, 87, Vol. 4, April 2010, 374-380.
  • Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R., Platt, T., Varma-Nelson, P. and White, H., (2008), “Pedagogies of Engagement : A Comparison of PBL, POGIL and PLTL” in preparation for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36, 4, 262-273
  • Gafney, L and Varma-Nelson P. (2007), “Evaluating Peer-Led Team Learning: A Study of Long-Term Effects on Former Workshop Leaders.” Journal of Chemical Education, 84, 535-539.
  • Varma-Nelson, P. (2006) "Peer-Led Team Learning” in Metropolitan Universities Journal: "STEM Innovation and Dissemination: Improving Teaching and Learning in Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics," 17, 19-29.
  • Weaver, G., D. Wink, P. Varma-Nelson, F. Lytle, R. Morris, W. Fornes, C. Russell, and W. J. Boone. 2006. “Developing a New Model to Provide First and Second-Year Undergraduates with Chemistry Research Experience: Early Findings of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE).” The Chemical Educator, 11, 1-5.
  • Weaver, G. C., Varma-Nelson, P., Wink, D., Morris, R., Lytle, F. "Experiencing Research in a First or Second Year Science Course - Preliminary Results and Reflections on the Goals and Progress of the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE)." (2005). The Chemical Educator, 11, 125-129.
  • Varma-Nelson, P. The peer-led team learning workshop model, Project Kaleidoscope Volume IV: What Works, What Matters, What Lasts. Retrieved May 21, 2007, from Approaches to Assessing 21st Century Pedagogies Web site:
  • Gosser, D., V. Roth, L. Gafney, J. Kampmeier, V. Strozak, P. Varma-Nelson, S. Radel, and M. Weiner. 1996. Workshop Chemistry: Overcoming Barriers to Student Success. The Chemical Educator 1(1), Invited
  • Varma-Nelson, P., J. E. Nelson and T. Kloempkin. 1992. A particle concentration immunoassay for AZT. In Proceedings of the PCFIA Users Symposium. IDDEX, Portland, MA. Invited Nelson, J.E., P. Varma-Nelson and T. Kloempkin. 1992. A graphic grade scaling method. Journal of Chemical Education. 6, 462-3.
  • Varma-Nelson, P., J.E. Nelson and S.M. Belknap. 1991. A particle concentration fluorescence immunoassay for gentamicin. Therapeutic Drug Monitoring 13 (3): 260-2.
  • Schultz, R.M., P. Varma-Nelson, R. Ortiz, K. A. Koslowski, A. T. Orawski, P. Ragast, A. Frankfater. 1989. “Active and inactive forms of the transition-state analog protease inhibitor leupeptin: Explanation of the observed slow binding of leupeptin to cathepsin B and papain.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 264 (3): 1497-1507.
  • Schultz, R.M., P. Varma-Nelson, J. Peters and W. Treadway. 1979. “Effect of essential catalytic residue modifications on conformation and binding affinity in a-chymotrypsin.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 254: 12411.
  • Matthews, C., J. Nelson, P. Varma and R. Minard. 1978. “Deuterolysis of amino acid precursors in chemical evolution studies.” H. Noda (Ed). Origin of Life 123-8. Center for Academic Publications, Japan.
  • Matthews, C., J. Nelson, P. Varma-Nelson, R. Minard. 1977. “Deuterolysis of amino acid precursors: Evidence for hydrogen cyanide polymers as protein ancestors.” Science 198: 622-625.
  • Minard, R., W. Yang, P. Varma-Nelson, J. Nelson and C. Matthews. 1975. “Heteropolypeptides from poly-a-cyanoglycine and hydrogen cyanide: A model for the origin of proteins.” Science 190: 387-389.

Books, Manuals, and National Reports

  • Auchincloss, L. C., Laursen, S. L., Branchaw, J. L., Eagan, K., Graham, M., Hanauer, D. I., Lawrie, G., McLinn, C. M., Pelaez, N., Rowland, S., Towns, M., Trautmann, N. M., Varma-Nelson, P., Weston, T. J., & Dolan, E. L. (2014). Assessment of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences—A meeting report. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(1): 29-40
  • Varma-Nelson, P., contributing author, 2013, AAAS report of a national meeting, Describing & Measuring Undergraduate STEM Teaching Practices, meeting held in Washington DC, 17-19, December, 2012.
  • Holme, T., Cooper, M., and Varma-Nelson, P. (Eds.), (2013), Trajectories of chemistry education innovation and reform, Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. Co-author of the 2011 AAAS report, “Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action.”
  • Gafney, L., and Varma-Nelson, P. (2008), Peer-led Team Learning: Evaluation, Dissemination, and Institutionalization of a College-level Educational Initiative (Innovations in Science Education and Technology), Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer-Verlag.
  • Kampmeier, J., Varma-Nelson P., Wamser ,C. and Wedegaertner, D. 2006. Second Edition, Peer-Led Team Learning: Organic Chemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Varma-Nelson, P. and M.S. Cracolice. 2001. Peer-Led Team Learning: General, Organic, and Biochemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Kampmeier, J.A., P. Varma-Nelson and D.K. Wedegaertner. 2001. Peer-Led Team Learning: Organic Chemistry. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Gosser, D.K., M.S. Cracolice, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V. Strozak, and P. Varma-Nelson. 2001. Peer-Led Team Learning: A Guidebook. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Varma-Nelson, P. and R. Van Lanen. 1993, 2001. Laboratory Manual: Small Scale Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry Experiments. Saint Xavier University, Chicago, IL.

Invited Chapters in Books

  • Varma-Nelson, P. & Turner, R. (2018). Faculty engagement with scholarly teaching and the culture and organization of a teaching and learning center. In Felisatti, E., & Serbati, A. (Eds.). (2018). Preparare alla professionalità docente e innovare la didattica universitaria (pp.116-125). Milano. FrancoAngeli.
  • Rao, A. S., Tarr, T. A., & Varma-Nelson, P. (2017). Promoting metacognitive practices in faculty and students. In Metacognition in Chemistry Education: Connecting Research and Practice (pp. 81-99). American Chemical Society.
  • Leontyev, A., Chase, A., Pulos, S., & Varma-Nelson, P. (2017). Assessment of the effectiveness of instructional interventions using a comprehensive meta-analysis package. In Gupta, T.(Ed.), Computer-Aided Data Analysis in Chemical Education Research (CADACER): Advances and Avenues. (pp117-132). American Chemical Society.
  • Varma-Nelson, (2017). Empowering Effect of Leadership Roles in Undergraduate Education, in Diversity in the Scientific Community Volume 2: Perspectives and Exemplary Programs, (pp155-161). American Chemical Society.
  • Varma-Nelson, P., & Banks, J. V., (2013), PLTL: Tracking the trajectory from face-to-face to on-line environments. In T. Holme, M. Cooper, and P. Varma-Nelson (Eds.), Trajectories of chemistry education innovation and reform (pp. 95-110). American Chemical Society.
  • Weaver, G.C., Wink, D.J., Varma-Nelson, P., and Lytle, F.E. (2009). Integrating Research into the Curriculum: Using Laboratory Modules to Engage Faculty and Students. In Boyd, M.K., and Wesemann, J.L.(Eds), Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering Excellence and Enhancing the Impact (pp109-125. Council on Undergraduate Research, Washington D.C. Invited
  • Kampmeier, J. A., Varma-Nelson, P. (2009). Peer-Led Team Learning; Organic Chemistry. In Pienta, N.; Cooper, M.M.; Greenbowe, T. (Eds.), Chemists' Guide to Effective Teaching, Vol.2., (pp122-145). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Varma-Nelson, P. and Gosser, D. (2005), Dissemination of Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) and Formation of a National Network Embracing a Common Pedagogy. In M. Ouellet (Ed.), Teaching Inclusively: Diversity and Faculty Development (pp. 503-518). Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
  • Varma-Nelson, P., Cracolice, M., and Gosser, D., (2005). Peer-Led Team Learning: A Student-Faculty Partnership for Transforming the Learning Environment. In Invention and Impact: Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education, Proceedings of an April 2004 Conference Co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs (EHR)-Retrieved May 21, 2007
  • Varma-Nelson, P. and Coppola, B., (2005). Team Learning. In Cooper, M.M., Greenbowe, T., Pienta, N. (Eds). The Chemists' Guide to Effective Teaching, Vol.1 (pp155-169). Prentice Hall Publishing. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
  • Sarquis, J.L., L.J. Dixon, D.K. Gosser, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V.S. Strozak and P. Varma-Nelson. (2001). The Workshop Project: Peer-Led Team Learning in Chemistry. In J.E. Miller, J.E. Groccia, and M.S. Miller (EDs). In Student-Assisted Teaching: A Guide to Faculty Student Teamwork (pp150 -155). Anker Publishing Company, Bolton, MA.
  • Kampmeier, J.A. and P. Varma-Nelson (2001). Institutionalizing the Workshops. In Gosser, D.K., M.S. Cracolice, J.A. Kampmeier, V. Roth, V. Strozak, and P. Varma-Nelson(Eds). Peer-Led Team Learning: A Guidebook (pp 61-74). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.


National Committees/Advisory Boards

  • Advisory Board, UT El Paso, Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity: Southwest Consortium of Health-Oriented Education Leaders and Research Scholars, funded by NIH BUILD Program, 2017-2021
  • Advisory Board, University of Virgin Islands, HBCU-UP ACE Proposal (includes training faculty on Implementation of PLTL in all their STEM departments), 2016- 2021
  • Advisory Board, Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC), 2015-2018
  • Advisory Board, UC Irvine, EAGER Project titled: Online Collaborative Problem Solving in Remedial College Mathematics, 2015-2018
  • American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Education, Board of Publications (BoP) 2012-2016
  • CIC Centers for Teaching and Learning Directors group, 2008-2016
  • Advisory Board, DePaul University, STEM Talent Expansion Project (STEP), 2008-2012 DePaul University, Chicago, Scientific Data analysis and Visualization major; Program Review; Chicago, IL; March 15, 16, and 16, 2010
  • Advisory Board, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society, 2007-2010
  • Editorial Board member, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2006-present, Member, 2006-2008, New Member Committee, Division of Chemical Education, American Chemical Society
  • Founding Chair, New Member Committee, Division of Chemical Education, American Chemical Society, 2002-2006
  • Member, Long Range Planning Committee, Division of CHED, American Chemical Society, 2002-2006
  • Advisory Board Member, 2003-2006, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) National Dissemination Project 2003-2006
  • U.S. Program Advisory Board Member, 2001Gordon Research Conference on Science,Education and Visualization held at Mount Holyoke College, CT, 200-2001
  • Member, Committee on Chemical Education Research, Division of Chemical Education (CHED), American Chemical Society, 2000–2003
  • Member, International Activities Committee, Division of CHED, American Chemical Society, 1999-2002
  • National Visiting Committee appointed by NSF, Molecular Science Project, UCLA, Chemistry 1996-2000


  • Member, Advisory Board, Chemical & Engineering News, 2007-2010
  • Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Science Education and Technology, 2006-present


  • 2018 George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, American Chemical Society. To recognize outstanding contributions to chemical education.
  • 2017 Fellow, American Chemical Society February 19, 2017 Interviewed on Science Studio, National Public Radio, USA
  • 2016 Reimagine Education, Bronze Award, Canada and USA region for cPLTL project
  • 2014 Distinguished Scientist, Skidmore College
  • 2014 Outstanding IUPUI Woman Leader
  • 2013 Woodward Lecturer, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
  • 2013 Service Award, School of Science, IUPUI
  • 2012, Sloan-C Award for Effective Practices in Online and Blended Education for cPLTL Project
  • 2011 Stanley C. Israel regional award from the American Chemical Society for work in advancing diversity in the chemical sciences she recently received. Featured in the article “Promoting Diversity Through Conversation” Chemical and Engineering
    News, Volume 88, Issue 24, June 14, 2010, PP 49-52.
  • 2008 James Flack Norris Award for outstanding achievement in the teaching of chemistry. Corecipients of the 2008 award were Jack Kampmeier, University of Rochester, and David K. Gosser, City College of New York.
  • Teacher/Scholar Award recipient, SXU, School of Arts and Sciences, 2002
  • Sigma Xi Honor Society
  • Recognized by SXU for “Excellence in Scholarship,” May, 1999 and April, 2001, May 2002