Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Improving Student Perceptions of Science through the Use of State-of-the-Art Instrumentation in General Chemistry Laboratory

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Improving Student Perceptions of Science through the Use of State-of-the-Art Instrumentation in General Chemistry Laboratory

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The typical first-year general chemistry laboratory occurs at a fertile time in an undergraduate's scientific development and is an appropriate place to bring students in contact with state-of-the-art instrumentation. General chemistry laboratory is a course with a large enrollment of students who have some initial interest in science and/or engineering. This is a much larger number of students with more diverse interests than enroll in organic chemistry laboratory, where advanced instrumentation is typically introduced. Considering the wealth of technology that college students now use on a daily basis, the addition of advanced technology seems a logical way to gain student interest in science. Access to state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy instrumentation has been provided early in the college curriculum in an effort to broaden and raise student interest in science and awareness of the college's science program. Many lab instructors reading this article may pause at this point and say to themselves, "too many students" or "the instrument will get broken." The concerns are valid, but the activities described in this paper demonstrate not only that NMR is possible, but also that it has a positive impact on student perception of science.

Why use NMR spectroscopy? The ability of NMR to provide detailed information regarding molecular structure, as a whole, in a relatively straightforward manner is a huge benefit to its use early in the science curriculum. Couple this ability to the integration of NMR across many courses and disciplines, and students can be given the opportunity for significant learning when the same fundamental concepts are applied in a variety of contexts (Fisher and Fish 2007). The incorporation of technology alone, including spectroscopy, into early stages of scientific education may have pedagogical advantages (Steehler 1998; Davis and Moore 1999). Specific advantages include a visual or graphic approach to understanding molecular data, realizing the student expectations of using modern technology, modeling real-world application of science, and promoting a multiyear and multilevel approach to instrumentation encompassing a four-year curriculum. Additionally, it is apparent that access to NMR spectroscopy at the undergraduate level in many science programs is desirable (Alonso and Wong 2008; Alonso et al. 2005; Grushow and Brandolini 2001; Rovnyak and Stockland 2007; Uffelman et al. 2003). Indeed, in the guidelines for bachelor's degree programs recommended by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training (2008), NMR is the only advanced instrumentation to be singled out: "Approved programs must have a functioning NMR spectrometer that undergraduates use in instruction and research." As further encouragement, the cover graphic on the ACS document is a two-dimensional NMR spectrum of cholesterol. For all these reasons, NMR has been chosen as the instrumentation of choice in this work. The implementation of NMR spectroscopy into the general chemistry laboratory curriculum was part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)--funded project to broaden undergraduate interest in and exposure to science through the acquisition of a moderate field spectrometer. One of the primary goals of this work was to provide access to research-grade NMR instrumentation early in the college curriculum and thereby broaden student awareness of science and science degree programs at our school.

Although this study emphasizes the NMR spectroscopic analysis of an aspirin sample, other forms of instrumentation or technology could be used in place of, or in concert with, NMR instrumentation to promote student interest in science. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy has been used for the qualitative identification of aspirin (Olmsted 1998) and is another example of how modern instrumentation can facilitate analytical science. …

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