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Can the Organic Laboratory be Computer Assisted?


Bruce N. Campbell, Jr.

 Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Fall 1992 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
        This is the question I posed at the 12th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in August. It is the question I want to pose now to the readers of this newsletter.
          In this brief paper, I would like to suggest some ways computers have been or could be used to make the Organic Laboratory experience more effective. My examples are drawn mostly from software available for the Macintosh®. If readers have suggestions or comments, I would like to hear from them and will prepare a future column summarizing such comments in this newsletter.
Some possible uses and software are given in Table 1.
Tables II, Ill, and IV suggest some uses before, during, and after the lab.
          Graphing results from kinetic experiments, titrations, and apparatus and instrument calibration during the lab will suggest how effective the work has been or whether it should be repeated. Searching for spectra to compare to observed spectra would give feedback as to how successful a synthesis had been. Some students might keep electronic notebooks.
          Computer stored or generated spectra and molecular modeling programs could be used for preparatory assignments or dry labs. We have had students use qualitative organic analysis simulation to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of unknowns in the lab.
          Students are asked to come to the Organic lab having done prior preparation. This preparation usually includes finding the chemical and physical properties of the substances to be used or prepared. Now we need to add to that, information on toxicity and methods of disposal. Computer searchable data bases could facilitate this process.
          Participants at the conference in August were asked to fill out a related questionnaire. A few did. The questions were: 
1. What software programs do you use in conjunction with teaching the Organic lab?
2. How would you like to use the computer in this activity?
3. Do or should your students have access to computers "in" the Organic lab as they do to IR andGC?
4. How would you like your Organic lab students to use computers?
5. What stands in the way of more use of computers in the Organic lab?
          Responses for question 1 included different spectral programs (mentioned by all but one responder and one of these mentioned the Sadtler Ubrary Search program), Beaker, word processing, and drawing programs. One respondent said they had a qual organic search program for compound identification containing data for 6000 compounds stored on their IBM mainframe.
          Suggestions for question 2 included input data and check calculations or receive suggestions (i.e. error, possible compounds), analysis of gas chromatographic data, simulations, modeling, lab notebook, and to identify spectral unknowns before doing qual. The responder with the ID file said their students get a list of possible compounds. That sounds interesting.
          Answers in response to question 3 range from no response through yes (several) to one lab which is connected by cable to mainframe with input from the lab.
          Question 4 drew responses expanded from #2. They include: Preview lab set-up, compare and average class results (Good for discovery labs!), grade their own preparations with IR and NMR as resources, write lab reports, spectral searches and simulators, and using the library that comes with FT-IR.
          In response to number 5, almost all said space and/or money. One threw in the administration. No one mentioned concern for damage to the computers. One honest responder spoke for all of us-"my inertia."
          Don't let your inertia get in the way. Write today if these topics are of interest to you. If people are interested, I would be willing to act as a clearinghouse and seek to air your ideas and concerns (quality of software, software needed, ways to use them, successes, etc.) in print. 


09/21/92 to 09/25/92