Why Small-Scale Chemistry?

Why Small-Scale Chemistry?

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(5.8 MB)

Almost all post secondary science courses include a required laboratory component. Enrollments in these laboratory courses, particularly first year general chemistry courses, are very large, perhaps exceeding 500,000 students nation-wide, and are increasing yearly. These increases are due to an increasing number of college age students and significant increases in the number of students taking first year chemistry courses in community colleges and technical schools. It is important to emphasize that less than 2 percent of these students will major in chemistry and that only about 25 percent will take more than one year of chemistry.

Unfortunately, there are many problems associated with teaching quality instructional chemistry laboratories, most of which are directly responsible for the high cost of these courses. (click here for a discussion of costs of traditional instructional laboratories) In spite of the high costs, most accreditation organizations insist on first year laboratory instruction. Most faculty strongly believe that in an experimental science like chemistry, students should develop a good grounding in laboratory work, and most students enjoy their lab experiences. In fact, a consensus has developed among science and technology educators and industry leaders that quality laboratory experiences are crucial to the recruitment, retention, and development of all students, including those in non-science areas such as business and law. It is time to analyze and establish a clear account of the direct and indirect costs of laboratory science and to introduce a creative and innovative alternative to the traditional first year chemistry laboratory.

Vama Robinson discusses Small-Scale chemistry

(3.3 MB)

Small-Scale Chemistry has proved to be much more cost effective and safer for the student, the instructor and for the institution. The generation of wastes is reduced dramatically and disposal costs are almost zero. The source reduction principles of "Green Chemistry" are designed into all of the experiments. The small quantities of chemicals used results in a significant reduction in solution preparation time and small inventories reduce storage costs. Scaled down inventories also allow for "Just-in-time" ordering. In Small-Scale Chemistry, we rely on the power of chemistry itself, in the form of molecular probes, to develop instruments which students can quickly build, use and apply. These molecular sensor systems can probe the emission and absorption of light, heat and electrons, which report the binding and linkage of atoms, ions and molecules. Using this approach, we have developed one dollar pH meters, balances, potentiometric probes, spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and thermal probes. The laboratory in Small-Scale Chemistry (i.e. the place) is an 81/2" x 11" plastic file protector covering a stiff plastic sheet and a wide variety of inserted templates designed for specific experiments. This observational platform is called a "lab-top" and it allows chemistry to be carried out in virtually any location and environment. The Small-Scale Chemistry approach allows educators to break free of the myth that doing modern, meaningful chemistry necessarily requires very expensive tools.


Catherine Etter discusses accessibility

(2 MB)

Small-Scale Chemistry is a simple, yet sophisticated approach to reducing the costs of teaching laboratory chemistry. After adoption of Small-Scale Chemistry in the first year chemistry program at Colorado State University, consumable costs were reduced from approximately $70,000 to $3,000 and waste disposal costs of $10,000 were virtually eliminated. We have taught lab courses in ordinary classrooms and designed low cost work stations for integrated laboratory courses. The technology, scale, safety and low cost of Small-Scale Chemistry make it possible to increase the student/instructor ratio, further lowering costs and increasing efficiency. All this has been done without sacrificing rigorous content, sound pedagogy, or student interest. In fact, many areas of chemistry that were previously inaccessible for cost or safety reasons can now be included in student coursework. The costs of transition from the traditional approach to Small-Scale Chemistry are extremely low, primarily because of scaling factors. The simplicity, elegance, flexibility, and low cost of Small-Scale Chemistry allows any instructor to develop a complete lab course tailored to address student and institutional needs in a short time and with minimal resources.