Developing Context-Based Physical Chemistry Laboratory Investigations

developing pre-laboratory activities to reduce this load by extending the work involved each practical

Team Members :  Scott Moonie, Ariana Jones, Will Kew, Michael Seery


Physical chemistry is one of the three major branches of chemistry, and laboratory classes in this discipline have a long acknowledged difficulty, because of the coincidence of instrumentation and a combination of difficult conceptual topics and the highly mathematical nature of the topic, imposing a substantial cognitive load on learners.

This project aims to build on our previous work in Year 3 laboratories involving developing pre-laboratory activities to reduce this load by extending the work involved each practical, so that students will complete three much more extensive experiments over their timetable, instead of completing several one-session single experiments. This will provide time and space to engage much more deeply in developing one topic, rather than a weekly rush of trying to engage with different topics in every session. Each extensive experiment will build on the initial “prescriptive” experiment students complete, but then allow them to develop the experiment according to their own design.

A key feature of this development is the nature of the relationship between students and their demonstrators. Students who complete four separate laboratory topics will meet as many demonstrators for short (3 hour) amount of time. By extending the experiments, the intention is that students can work with demonstrators more closely over several sessions, reaping the benefits that this relationship involves.

The project involves the hiring of a student intern to work with the project team, consisting of the lab course organiser, two experienced postgraduate demonstrators, and the lab technician to develop four new mutli-week experiments.

Final project report

Download the final project report (PDF)

Other project outcomes

Seery M, Jones AB, Kew W, Mein T (2018)  Unfinished Recipes: Structuring Upper-Division Laboratory Work to Scaffold Experimental Design Skills, Journal of Chemical Education

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.8b00511