Grant Will Enhance Skills for Chemistry Students

A grant awarded to the Ursinus Chemistry Department for collection devices and software means students will be able to use their college-issued laptop computers to collect, display and work with laboratory data in more advanced experiments. The Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grant was one of 12 out of 49 proposals selected for funding.

“The ability for students to collect and observe the data in real time will allow for additional data collection in less time, better evaluation of the collected data, and importing the data into word processing or spread sheet applications for preparation of formal laboratory reports,” said Professor of Chemistry Victor Tortorelli, who applied for the $10,000 grant.  The state-of-the-art laboratory data collection devices and probes to be used in the first four semesters of the chemistry curriculum also will allow the faculty to enhance the laboratory experience by incorporating new experiments throughout the general and organic chemistry laboratory sequence.

Science Lab

“Using this equipment will prepare our students to work in twenty-first century laboratories, where much of the data collection is automated,” said Department Chair Mark Ellison, Associate Professor of Chemistry.

The equipment includes 28 Lab Quest Mini Data collection devices and software; 28 pH sensors, temperature probes and drop counters; and six melting point stations and polarimeters.

Introducing the data acquisition devices into the first-semester laboratory course, said Tortorelli, “will impact the greatest possible number of science students.” Use during the next three semesters of chemistry laboratories will augment the data interpretation skills of Ursinus students.

The mini data acquisition device and temperature probes are used to perform an experiment on calorimetry. Using the digital temperature probe along with the software installed on laptop computers will allow for real-time compilation of temperature versus time data collection and make extrapolations to the mixing time more facile and accurate.

Organic chemistry students will be able to incorporate the use of the melting temperature sensors to simultaneously observe the melting point, as well as capture the temperature data on their laptops. Melting point determinations are commonly used in more than half of the experiments performed in the organic chemistry lab.

General chemistry students will have the use of drop counters and pH sensors for experiments involving acid-base titrations – experiments which will be greatly enhanced by having a real-time display of the experimental data, according to Tortorelli. Students would collect data on laptop computers and analyze graphically the titration data and incorporate the results into their formal written laboratory reports.

Over the last 10 years the Chemistry Department has graduated, on average, 10 chemistry majors a year, most of whom continue to work in STEM fields. Of those chemistry graduates, 35 percent went to graduate school, 54 percent found employment in the chemical industry, 4 percent went to medical school and 7 percent became high school teachers. The Ursinus Chemistry Department has offered a major certified by the American Chemical Society since 1959.