Laboratory Projects

Environmental science programs are now commonplace and many institutions offer environmental chemistry as a part of these programs or as an option for the chemistry major. The need for a firm grounding in the concepts that serve as the underpinnings for understanding environmental problems becomes greater with each new environmental controversy; yet it appears that core science courses and laboratory experiences are decreasing. In spite of NSF-funded programs such as the Systemic Change Initiatives that have produced informative materials such as ChemLinks and Modular Chem Consortium, there is little integration of environmentally-related laboratory projects in the first-year college course. The relative dearth of such projects is particularly disheartening given the large number of students exposed to such courses.

The NSF Review of Undergraduate Education titled Shaping the Future states that the essential interdisciplinary nature of environmental problems "offer[s] an excellent vehicle to introduce the major scientific disciplines because many of them have important physical, geological, chemical, and biological dimensions." The intent of this site is to present projects for the General Chemistry laboratory that are basic to the understanding of environmental problems. Unlike many of the environmental laboratory projects currently available, these projects are correlated with the content of the typical General Chemistry course. The projects are also tiered; that is, for a given content category there are multiple levels of experiments, varying from simple "test tube chemistry" to those involving relatively simple instrumentation.

Each project:

  1. contains several levels of sophistication that can be pursued as the instructor or student desires.
  2. contains an emphasis on both the underlying chemical principles and concepts such as measurement, separation, and analysis, which are fundamental to an understanding of environmental problems.
  3. attempts to invest the student with a degree of "ownership" in the project. This usually involves some non-routine explorations and/or the use of an unknown or a sample obtained by the student.