Bringing the Lab Into the Classroom

Mettler Toledo ReactIR system
Mettler Toledo ReactIR system

By Neil Nachbar

Students in URI’s chemical engineering and environmental engineering programs will have the opportunity to use equipment in the classroom that is normally reserved for labs, thanks to a $162,000 grant from The Champlin Foundation.

The rationale for “bringing the lab into the classroom,” according to the grant application, is that logistics and well-established timelines for conventional instruction don’t normally provide the flexibility needed to demonstrate how sophisticated instruments play a vital role in learning about chemical reactions.

By adding this equipment to the classroom, a large number of undergraduate students will be introduced to real-time chemical processes, measurements and cutting-edge technologies at an early stage in their educational careers.

Seven of the nine professors who applied for the grant, including the primary project investigator (PI), are from the URI Department of Chemistry. Also authoring the grant application were Distinguished Professor Arijit Bose of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Professor Thomas Boving of the Department of Geosciences and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Picospin Benchtop Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer
Picospin Benchtop NMR Spectrometer

“Conversion of raw materials to products often involves reactions. The ability to visualize them demystifies the process,” stated Bose. “The equipment will be mobile, allowing our undergraduates to ‘see’ these reactions in the classroom, as they learn about them in the lectures. This will be a powerful educational tool.”

“These new and sophisticated instruments provide our students with access to state-of-the-art methods and analytical techniques that were preciously out of their reach,” said Boving. “Particularly, our students will use the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer to study innovative approaches to water treatment that might in the near future lead to more effective methods to keep our drinking water safe and our rivers and groundwater cleaner.”

The equipment included in the grant:

A Mettler Toledo ReactIR system ($72,000)
It provides a rapid and sensitive way to investigate a reaction. It is used in cutting-edge research labs at top universities and in top pharmaceutical companies to understand how to best make new materials and pharmaceutical products, and to monitor manufacturing processes.

A Picospin Benchtop Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectrometer ($35,000)
This instrument provides atomic-level details about the structure of molecules. The machine will enable students to access high-level analytical capabilities and the resulting information, without requiring the specialized infrastructure of traditional NMR machines, which require extremely strong magnets and cooling capabilities.

A Mya Reaction Station ($50,000)
This reaction station will demonstrate how automated synthesis works, how to program the station, and how reactions can be conducted more efficiently via automation.

Heavy-Duty Cart ($5,000)
The equipment will be installed on a heavy-duty cart for safe instrument transport.

The other members of the grant team, from the URI Department of Chemistry, include Mindy Levine (primary PI), Jason Dwyer, Shahla Yekta, Michael McGregor, Cindy Graham Brittain, Sue Geldart and Silvana Ngo.