Creating Creativity

While doing my summer reading I came across an article in Chemical & Engineering News, March 22, entitled “Fostering Creativity.” In this article Richard N. Zare, 2010 recipient of the Priestly Medal, shares his thoughts on the process of creativity. He says, “In my lab, I try to create an environment of that encourages risk taking.” I know that he is talking about a research university research group, but I wonder if these comments could apply to sophomore organic chemistry lab as well. He says that creativity involves the intersection of three things 1) a capacity to put existing ideas together in new combinations, 2) knowledge, and 3) motivation. He also describes a five-step “creativity cycle” which is illustrated by the alliteration: 1) inertia, 2) irritation, 3) imitation, 4) intuition, and finally 5) inspiration. I was interested in that Zare used the word “playfulness” three times in his talk. I think that it is very interesting that he sees the value of “play” in laboratory research. I would hope that creativity can be fostered in an organic chemistry laboratory. I have been trying to add a playfulness section to a laboratory activity once a student has familiarized themselves with a technique. I think a student enters into the arena where playfulness is possible when the student has enough familiarity with a process to be relaxed with their ability to perform the technique. Usually this is in the form of an open-ended question or an experiment that allows the students to choose their parameters.  In the TLC lab, once the students have observed the behavior of 6 different compounds in three solvents of differing polarity, they are encouraged to try an experiment with a mixed solvent combination.

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