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Improved Learning via Modern Chemistry Experiments



This Learning Enhancement project has been funded through the HEA and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.

PROJECT TITLE: Improved Learning via Modern Chemistry Experiments
PROJECT COORDINATORS: Assistant Professor Marcus Baumann 
MODULE: Multiple Chemistry Modules
STUDENT COHORT: Undergraduate Students (Chemistry / Science)
COLLABORATORS: Mr Hans-Georg Eckhardt


Laboratory-based learning is vital for our Science programme and in particular for Chemistry students to apply new knowledge from accompanying lectures and to train practical skills. This is of particular relevance as our undergraduate students subsequently undertake postgraduate research and seek employment in the Irish chemical industry.

Our project aimed at modernising current laboratory experiments in view of updating existing protocols and trial new approaches including photochemical and technology-assisted experiments. As hands-on learning with new flow reactors (that are vital in modern industrial applications e.g. drug manufacture) is crucial, yet not established in most university’s teaching curricula, we wished to trial such experiments through this LEP project.


Goals of this initiative were to:

  1. Update existing laboratory experiments in view of replacing unfavourable chemicals and solvents.
  2. Create data sets for spectroscopy-based practicals and trouble-shoot experimental procedures.
  3. Evaluate and optimise a continuous photochemical synthesis for undergraduate laboratories.
  4. Develop interactive online teaching aids explaining relevant experimental background and guiding students through new material.

The Innovative Approach

In the first part, we worked with a project student who developed a contemporary fluorescence undergraduate practical over a period of 8 weeks. Specifically, a student-lead and student-focused approach with guidance from the mentor was followed. The project focused on using greener solvents (non-fossil fuel based) trying to make it more relatable to our undergraduate students in view of sustainability. The student developed a 3-hour long practical which met a series of specific learning outcomes. The experiment aimed at quantifying the content of vitamin B12 in energy drinks and seeing how close this is to what is stated on the container. This will now be the basis of a replacement experiment for our 3rd year instrument analysis practicals.

Our second approach concerned the development of a new photochemical experiment we chose to target the generation of the well-known painkiller ibuprofen to make this experiment more relevant for future industrial applications. A project student helped optimising the chemical synthesis and created a virtual experiment that captured the set-up and execution of the experimental process via embedded videos, test questions, and material for further study. This led to the availability of proof-of concept-data that are now being translated into a new experiment for our 3rd year practicals.



During the project period (summer 2020) two UCD undergraduate students were able to evaluate the objectives set out for our study. Supervision by the project coordinators provided for an effective working environment and quickly generated positive outcomes. Thus, laboratory experimentation quickly succeeded in creating new experimental procedures that were validated for future use. Replacement of outdated protocols as well as unfavourable chemicals complemented the study.

In parallel, a light-driven flow experiment to create the drug ibuprofen was successfully established. This included efforts for the isolation, purification, and spectroscopic characterisation of this material. All these components are important learning objectives in our undergraduate laboratories.

Both project students enjoyed being part of this effort that allowed them to proactively contribute to the development of new undergraduate teaching aids, whilst improving their own knowledge base and practical skills. Pleasingly, the timelines were kept and both project components were completed in the intended time frame.

This LEP award has thus allowed us to undertake necessary improvements in our teaching of Chemistry practicals and initiated an ongoing upgrading process to modernise the delivery of our laboratory teaching.

The new interactive teaching aids and materials, including practical laboratory procedures and software based guide, are going to be used over the coming term in teaching of undergraduate students and further improved upon as required. These teaching aids and materials should subsequently become available online. Should you have particular interest in our processes or resources in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact Associate Professor Marcus Baumann at marcus.baumann@ucd.ie.