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Students as participants in curriculum redesign: development of a project based introductory chemistry laboratory curriculum

A. Rovira, V. Lykourinou, J. de la Parra

In this curriculum reform we are seeking to improve learning outcomes in the general chemistry laboratory by making use of the unique attributes of this environment to introduce students to research approaches in chemistry by focusing on project based learning grounded in sustainability while making connections to departmental research. The goal is to successfully engage students in cooperative learning and help them develop experimental design skills while engaging in authentic research experiences designed to make them aware of green chemistry and sustainability practices in the chemistry laboratory.

The development team incorporates young undergraduate students who completed the pilot lab sessions and serve as peers to support teaching assistants in facilitation of lab courses and as co-developers of the curriculum. The team of faculty, graduate teaching assistants and students involved in this effort is currently working to refine experimental parameters for lab project guidelines, minimization of waste, development of online modules and media to best support instrumentation and technique competency and provide support in assessing learning outcomes. Details of laboratory projects currently developed where students work in optimizing extraction and identification of pharmaceutical intermediates from plants using greener solvents and supercritical fluid liquid chromatography in parallel with TLC will be discussed.

Crafting a More Environmentally Benign Extraction and Analysis of Pharmaceutical Precursors from a Medicinal Plant: A Student-Led Innovation

John de la Parra, Julian Stanley, Suraya Foster, Carolyn Webb, Vasiliki Lykourinou*

A student-led research seminar was utilized to develop and validate an innovative 4-part undergraduate chemistry laboratory module that exposes students to a more environmentally benign method for the extraction and analysis of pharmaceutical-precursor alkaloids from the leaves of a medicinal plant, the Madagascar periwinkle. This plant is well known for its production of valuable pharmaceutical alkaloids but obtaining these compounds in therapeutic amounts has relied on traditional techniques that often ignored environmental impacts. Our group has optimized an instructional protocol for extracting alkaloids from leaves by successfully, and for the first time, replacing the traditionally used dichloromethane extraction solvent with cyclopentyl methyl ether, a less environmentally harmful solvent. As a pedagogical exercise in the principles of green chemistry, students work in teams performing extractions with conventional vs. “green” solvents for comparison. Using Dragendorff’s reagent we also introduce the student to the concept of the qualitative assay for alkaloid presence. Thin layer chromatography is performed with various solvents to optimize resolution of major alkaloid components, as well as to introduce fundamental principles of chromatography to the students. Finally, supercritical fluid chromatography is utilized as a previously unexplored, and less waste-producing analytical technique for confirmation of the presence of vindoline and catharanthine.​

Learn more here!

A student designed curriculum: developing a project-based introductory chemistry laboratory course

Vasiliki Lykourinou, E. Navarrete, A. Rovira, J. de la Parra

The project, Creating a student-developed, project-based introductory chemistry laboratory curriculum, gives undergraduates an active role in their education by providing a setting in which they must design, optimize, and implement their own protocols. Stepping away from the “mix and record” methodology employed across universities for decades, the introductory chemistry laboratory course is designed to make students think critically through team-focused, research-based experimentation. Given only a goal, set materials, and a skeletal procedure, students must work as true scientists to determine testable variables, develop execution strategies, and debate their decisions against those of other teams.

While environmental responsibility has been deemed a priority of the scientific community, it is missing from most modern day curricula. To address this gap between theory and practice, research from Northeastern and other universities that employ The Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry (Anastas and Warner, 1998) has been integrated into every learning module. To further reinforce this goal, students are required to apply green chemistry practices in the lab when performing reactions, toxicology, and waste. By overlaying student-created experiments with green chemistry practices, the course is conducive to the creation of a new generation of highly skilled, environmentally aware scientists. The final overarching component of this project is the creation of an organic turnover mechanism, in which students, after course completion, are invited to join the development team so they may further modify the existing curriculum. Students’ perspectives, though often overlooked in academics, are a vital resource in the optimization of learning. Their unique viewpoints are crucial in evaluating new methodologies, experiments, and even new course topics.

All in all, this project embodies experiential learning and is truly in the vanguard of education research at Northeastern, pushing students to become not only better learners rather than better students, but also to assume an ownership of their edification and that of their peers.

From Research to the Teaching Labs: Crafting Research Inspired Laboratory Projects for General Chemistry Laboratories using Undergraduate Students as Active Participants in the Design and implementation of an electrochemistry water remediation project

E. Navarrete, V. Lykourinou,  J.Perrier, L. Rajic

In this presentation we will outline the design of an electrochemistry project based on research conducted at our university using a solar powered electrolytic water remediation system to introduce electrochemistry, green chemistry and principles of water remediation in a second semester general chemistry laboratory sequence. The project was designed to be a part of a project based cooperative green chemistry curriculum for our freshman chemistry laboratories.

The development team incorporates young undergraduate students who completed the first semester of the pilot laboratory implementation of the new curriculum as students and showed interest in being involved in the testing, optimization and development of a multi week laboratory project using electrochemistry. The approach in this project is based on research conducted at Northeastern University (Professor Akram Alshawabkeh lab PROTECT project) using electrocoagulation and/or hydrogen peroxide generation as means of decontamination of water samples spiked with model dye compounds and pharmaceutical contaminants. The students tested and optimized the experimental conditions suitable for this laboratory module working together with more senior undergraduate students already involved in the curriculum development and faculty. Once the conditions suitable for teaching purposes in this module were established, the students collaborated closely with the faculty to finalize the teaching material to be used for implementation of the laboratory module in the freshman lab sequence in the upcoming academic year.

We will present the broader pedagogical design of the laboratory curriculum where this electrochemistry project will be implemented, the outline of the electrochemistry project design and laboratory parameters and the design and function of the curriculum team framed within a peer mentoring model in collaboration with the faculty involved in this effort.

Integrating Green Chemistry and Toxicology into General chemistry

Shirley, H.Ca, Navarrete E.Ca, Perrier J.Ma, Lykourinou Va., Cannon Ab

To promote green chemistry education, two general chemistry teaching lab modules were redesigned to incorporate introductory toxicology analyses into a general chemistry curriculum. The two protocols, “Formula of a Hydrate” and “Analysis of Hard Water,” were redesigned with an emphasis on the use of greener alternatives to toxic chemicals commonly used in undergraduate teaching labs. Currently, many teaching labs use hazardous chemicals, such as EDTA, disregarding their toxicity and environmental impact. Alternatives to these hazardous chemicals were tested to determine potential challenges posed by their use in practical teaching lab environments. The “Formula of a Hydrate” lab was redesigned to replace NiCl2, a highly toxic compound, with greener alternatives like CaSO4. A team of students provided feedback and improvements to the redesigned “Formula of a Hydrate” lab after multiple iterations of both dry and wet lab protocol components. These data were used to repeatedly improve upon the module design to improve efficacy and reduce lab waste. Among the student contributions were improvements based upon compound stability in the laboratory setting and found possible reductions in chemical usage. Further testing will be conducted on the “Analysis of Hard Water” module to identify improvements to the preliminary procedure. These protocols, once complete, will provide a learning experience for students that enhances upon general chemistry concepts while also facilitating better understandings of green chemistry practices. The protocols will then be available for use in teaching labs via the Beyond Benign open access education website.