This Journal will employ the World Wide Web to provide a new forum for the dissemination of undergraduate chemistry laboratory experiments. The pedagogical value of "cook-book" type experiments has been questioned for some time. Various new approaches attempt to provide a student with an experience that emphasizes chemical principles and the opportunity for student input into the design and outcome of the experiment. It is usually difficult to promulgate these ideas in a timely fashion. Dissemination may take the form of symposia, discussions, or occasional publications. Most often, projects only become widely known after several years of development. The time lag inherent in traditional educational publications robs many teaching innovations of their novelty and the chemical community of active participation in the new ideas.
The hope is that the concepts embodied in ChemJOULE will solve many of these difficulties. Author(s) submit an experimental concept to the editors, along with an abstract, one or two specific examples of the experiment, and some background information (see submission instructions for specific details). If the experiment meets the general criteria and is favorably reviewed, the abstract will be posted on the Web site. After any necessary modifications are worked out between those who test the posted example and the author(s), the full experiment is made generally available. A dialog will be established between the author(s) and those who adopt the experiments. The names of author(s), testers, and initial users will be given. Over time, an interactive community of users should develop along with comments, improvements, and new modifications. As the collection of experiments grows, links will be added to relate experiments with common attributes. As the total chemical information on the Web increases, links will be added to references of the basic principles and applicable techniques. Ultimately, we hope to assemble a versatile chemistry laboratory hypertext supported by a broad spectrum of the chemical educational community.
Due to differences in equipment, laboratory facilities, course organization, available supervision, or other factors, most laboratory experiments described in standard manuals or texts require modification for use in a particular course setting. ChemJOULE seeks to present experiments based on a general principle or experimental method. These are experiments designed to permit flexibility, and thus, expect some input in the planning of the experiment by the instructor and/or students. This flexibility allows the experiment to be used in a variety of instructional settings. For example, an organic chemistry experiment involving the Aldol Condensation might be designed to demonstrate the scope and limitations of the directed aldol reaction. The principle involved could be kinetic versus thermodynamic control. Well known texts suggest the task of outlining a synthesis of a variety of structures as a student problem. The instructor could modify the set of structures to fit a set of starting materials appropriate for his/her lab and assign particular structures to student teams. The author of such an experiment should work out the reaction conditions so that all suggested reactions would be expected to proceed to a reasonable extent. The choice of methods to follow the reaction, to work up the product, and to determine the structure would have some flexibility, but details of specific methods will be provided by the author. In the aldol example, the reaction might be followed by HPLC or TLC. The product could be purified by crystallization or chromatography, and the structure might be characterized by a band in the IR spectrum or peaks in the NMR. The lab instructor would choose conditions best suited to his/her lab. The experiments should be designed to work with a variety of lab glassware known to be in general use. Minimization of the volume of chemicals will be expected; all experiments should be as "small scale" as possible. Those who adopt published experiments could follow the authors' specific examples in a cook-book fashion, but the intent is for users to develop new examples and modifications of the experimental concept.
To initiate this effort, experiments in all areas of chemistry are invited. As the set of experiments develops, the editors may request contributions in specific areas. Authors who may have written more specific experiments are encouraged to consider rewriting them in the broader context of ChemJOULE. Existing examples could be referenced.
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© February 1996, ChemJOULE.