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Instrumentation in the Curriculum

(Ben Binhong Lin, Stanford University)
Ben Binhong Lin, Stanford University

Hands-on experience with key analytic tools and data

We have invested in state-of-the-art instrumentation to complement our new facilities at the Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning, a flagship teaching hub on the Stanford campus. Both chemistry majors and non-majors work hands-on with our new fleet of ultraviolet–visible (UV–vis) spectrophotometers, gas chromatograph–mass spectrometers (GC–MS), and diamond attenuated total reflectance fourier transform infrared spectrometers (ATR FT–IR).

Each undergraduate laboratory classroom is now equipped with these instruments, as well as brand new temperature-controlled hotplates, rotary evaporators, and analytical balances to give students a true research experience and instant access to real data.

From the start, our students engage in novel experiments using these instruments to gain experience that will benefit them in future research and teach them fundamental concepts of analysis. As they progress through the curriculum, their knowledge of molecular principles and analytical thinking deepens. Early on, students synthesize different sunscreens and determine the efficacy by UV-vis spectrometry. In a subsequent class, they characterize synthetic biodiesel from unknown plant oils and examine drug metabolism using GC¬–MS. Our undergraduates use FT–IR to observe transformations in functional groups in multiple experiments, including mystery reactions.

Once they have a firm grounding in gathering and analyzing data, students have the opportunity to propose and conduct their own experiments in our advanced laboratory courses making use of any instruments necessary. By allowing our students to do their own analyses on their own projects, they gain a greater understanding of the molecules of life and other compounds with which they are interacting, and become better scientists and thinkers.