Dr. Varma-Nelson's scholarly contributions are in chemical education. She is known in the STEM education community for her pioneering work in development, implementation and dissemination of the Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) model of teaching. She was a Co-PI of two NSF funded National Dissemination Grants awarded to the PLTL project. In addition she was a founding Co-PI of the first NSF funded Undergraduate Research Center "Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education", (CASPiE). Her team at IUPUI is working on developing, implementing, evaluating, and disseminating cyber Peer-Led Team Learning (cPLTL)
;in general chemistry and organic chemistry. The cPLTL workshops are a synchronous online adaptation of the educational intervention Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL), in which students, under the guidance of undergraduate peer facilitators, work collaboratively in small groups to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills. PLTL and cPLTL workshops are being used to do research on student and peer leader behaviors in face-to-face and online environments. Peer leader behavior and peer leader-student discourse in the cyber and face-to-face environments of both Organic Chemistry and General Chemistry PLTL programs are being systematically examined to explore the differences in leadership style of the peer leaders in the two learning settings. Our group uses both qualitative and quantitative methods. Varma-Nelson is also studying the effectiveness of exporting pedagogies developed in chemistry to other STEM disciplines the humanities.