Learning Lab and Analysis Skills Using Arctic Snow
Trading in their lab coats for expedition quality parkas, UM first year students Alicia Kevelin and Claire Mattson set off on snowmobiles across the frozen tundra and sea ice around Barrow, Alaska last March. It was a most unusual spring break in the service of an introductory chemistry laboratory course.
In the Fall 2015 semester, Kevelin and Mattson were students in Dr. Kerri Pratt’s “Authentic Research Connection” section of the introductory lab, Chem 125/26. Pratt is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry participating in an education innovation to develop an exploratory laboratory course—akin to how science is actually done rather than “cookbook” exercises.
Can Students Think Like Industry Chemists?
How well can a team of graduate students immersed in university labs come up with a solution to an industrial problem? That question arises in light of a national concern that graduate programs do not provide sufficient preparation for careers after graduate school. Indeed, the transition from an academic research setting to an industrial setting can be challenging. Rarely are students exposed to considerations that are important in industry, such as scaling up for commercial production.
As part of the Department of Chemistry’s career preparation program CALC|UM (Chemistry Aligned with Life and Career), an event last summer tried a novel approach to exposing graduate students to industry perspectives. Four Dow scientists came to the Ann Arbor campus to present a process chemistry problem that shut down a Dow plant. Then, without revealing how Dow actually solved the problem, the Dow scientists invited the students to form teams to propose viable solutions to the real-world issue.