Category Archives: Fall 2008 Chemistry Lab

Sludge Test

I have continued to investigate the dehydration of methylcyclohexanols this summer. Just for fun, I have neutralized the “still pot” solution with sodium bicarbonate after the distillation has taken place. In theory, the still pot solution contains phosphoric acid, unreacted alcohol, and undistilled alkenes. After the acid catalyzed dehydration of a methylcyclohexanoel, the methy t-butylether […]

What I Learned This Semester

I think that it is good to look back each semester and reflect on what I have learned from teaching what I did. I have already made an ongoing record of changes that I would like to make next year written in red ink in the Instructor’s Copy of each experiment we have done. Sometimes […]

Today’s “Failures” = Tomorrow’s Successes

Textbook reactions do not always give textbook results. Since we received several new chromatography and spectroscopy instruments as part of our move-in package to our new building we have been doing a more thorough analysis of student products made in organic chemistry labs. In addition to doing the traditional melting point, TLC, IR, UV-vis, and […]


This past week we performed an experiment that investigated the kinetics of an SN1 reaction. I have been teaching with this experiment for years for the following reasons: 1) It fits in very well with the SN1/SN2 lecture material which is a key part of first semester organic chemistry, 2) it emphasizes some skills that […]

Experiential Experiments

  This week we are doing an extension of the “isolation of caffeine from tea” experiment. The student s bring in their own caffeinated beverage and plan a experimental procedure to extract caffeine from this beverage. Last year we did this experiment as an extension of the “caffeine from tea” lab so that the two […]

Molecular Visualization in Stereochemistry

Last weekend I attended a meeting of the Midwest Association of Chemistry Teaching in Liberal Arts Colleges (MACTLAC) that had a “Visualizing Chemistry” theme. This past week my students did the stereochemistry molecular modeling activity during the laboratory period. In my experience, this activity can be a powerful compliment to the lecture material, especially if […]

Evaluating Organic Chemistry Labs: Formal Lab Report

The advantage of assigning and grading formal lab reports is that they most closely resemble the formal scientific articles which we are trying to education our students to read and write. Formal lab reports emphasize writing skills necessary to communicate scientific content to other scientists and practitioners. The primary problem that I have had with […]

Evaluating Organic Chemistry Labs – What are we trying to do?

I have just finished grading a pile of lab reports while reflecting on the question: “How do scientists learn to read and write scientific articles?” Whether or not my students ever author a scientific paper, their lives and careers will most likely rely on data and ideas that were originally presented in the form of […]

Evaluating Organic Chemistry Labs – Prelab Preparation

There are two extremes of laboratory evaluations (grading): 1) A fill-in-the blanks worksheet that is filled out during the laboratory session and handed in at the end of lab. 2) A formal “journal style” lab report and/or a formal presentation of experimental results. In my view, Sophomore Organic Chemistry offers a transition from one to […]

Lab Overload

This semester I am teaching two lecture sections and four (3-hour) laboratory sections of Organic Chemistry each week. This is, in effect, double of what I was teaching last year at this time, since the enrollment in Organic Chemistry doubled this year compared to last. At Dominican University, teaching a lab section is worth half […]