Revolutionizing chemistry lab courses

Until recently, the state of the Chemistry 1000 course labs were like walking into a time capsule, badly in need of a modern touch. Students worked in archaic, old school spaces.  

“It was like walking into a lab that was set up 50 years ago,” says Chemistry Professor Derek Jackson in the Faculty of Science. “Not only was it staid, it wasn’t fun.” He wondered how he could better prepare students for their future and do it in an interesting way.  

Derek Jackson

Derek Jackson

Jackson is passionate about not only teaching, but also providing students with the tools and experiences they need to get the most out of their courses. He lobbied hard and got a redo of the labs. Gone are the irrelevant experiments and endless graph plotting and drawing, and the calculations.  

With much help from Chemistry Professor Hovig Kouyoumdjian, Jackson ushered in new equipment, about 50 LabQuest instruments, one for every two to three students, instead of the thermometers they were using until then. The LabQuests do the graphing and calculating.  

Hovig Kouyoumdjian

Hovig Kouyoumdjian

It may sound counter-intuitive,” says Jackson, “but I want students to spend their time predicting outcomes and analyzing data. That’s where the real benefit comes in. 

Through the technology, they can import their data and the lab tutor can pull that same data up on a television screen, which allows them to see if an experiment is going wrong before the students hand in their work. The advantage is that the students can understand where they have gone wrong and learn how to do it properly before leaving the lab. In addition, the lab tutor can show every student’s ongoing lab results on the screen simultaneously, which gives them another teaching tool to help explain what is happening or not with the experiments. 

Jackson also changed up what experiments students perform. Now they dissolve in acid aluminum foil and magnesium to see which is more reactive, for instance. 

As one lab director put it: “It’s revolutionary what he did for the labs and students.”  

And Jackson has big ideas about organic chemistry labs as well. 

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