Resources from our 2008-2012 NSF Project

Resources produced under NSF Grant 0737279

"Real-Life Inquiry-Based GC/MS Experiments for
General Education Chemistry Courses"

During the 2008-2012 period, the Roanoke College Chemistry Department worked on an NSF funded project to develop new guided inquiry experiments for use in first year chemistry lab courses.  The project included both courses for science majors and courses for non-science majors.  The project assessed the impacts of the increased use of guided inquiry on student anxieties about laboratory, student content learning, and student perceptions about the value of different aspects of the lab experience.

This site is designed for sharing the specific experiments that were developed in that project.  Experiments are listed for a non-science majors course focused on Chemistry and the Environment, a non-science majors course focused on Chemistry and Crime, and a two semester General Chemistry sequence for science majors.  Experiments were designed to included guided inquiry explorations and to include a real-life sample/problem scenario.  Some experiments are in full guided inquiry format; others are intermediate in format.

Materials are provided in PDF format.  Practical questions about the implementation of these experiments are welcome!

The contact person for this project is:
Dr. Jack Steehler

Inquiry Based Experiments from INQ-250 Chemistry and the Environment:

Soil Contamination 
This experiment describes a hypothetical soil contamination problem, and studies samples using extraction, chromatography, and spectroscopy.  Students design their own extraction investigation.

UV Light Protection 

Students design their own experiments to study the effectiveness of different sun protection materials and products.  Results are connected to UV spectra of materials.

Students design and carryout measurements of the solubility of solids.


Inquiry Based Experiments from INQ-250 Chemistry and Crime:

The experiment includes methods of basic measurement, application of the basics to a practical problem (investigating broken glass from a car accident), and discussion of the factors affecting measurement accuracy.  Preparation to give "expert testimony in court" is also included.

Environmental Forensics
Hydrocarbon contamination of a park is investigated, in the context of an airplane crash involving jettisoning of fuel. A number of alternate sources of hydrocarbon contamination are part of the story.  Students design and test their own extraction procedures, and investigate the problem using GC/MS.

Unknown White Powder
An extended case description of a person suspected of illegal drug use and sales is given.  Traditional spot tests are used, with confirmatory GC/MS analysis.  Students design part of the procedures for the tests.  Real drugs are not used in this experiment...substitute compounds are used.


Inquiry Based Experiments from CHEM 111/112 General Chemistry:

Crime Solving
A crime scene is staged, and students explore the site, then analyze samples using TLC, HPLC, and GC/MS.  Discussion of the interpretation of the meaning of these results for guilt or innocence is a key part of the experiment.

UV-Visible Spectroscopy and GC/MS
Students explore two analytical tools for identifying and quantitating molecules.  Interpretation of mass spectra through an inquiry approach is a key part of the experiment.

This experiment is a full inquiry investigation.  A preliminary exploration of extraction is followed by discussion, experimental design, experimentation, and discussion of results.  The focus is on a wide variety of variables which affect extraction.  GC/MS is used to analyze the multicomponent extracted mixture containing compounds of different polarity.

Students study acids, bases, salts and buffers.  An initial investigation provides the basic techniques and interpretive skills.  Students then design their own investigations of several new materials and buffers.  Formal writeups of the scientific method are included, as is class discussion of results.

Qualitative Analysis I
Traditional qualitative analysis is explored using standard procedures and student developed sequences.  Understanding of the underlying chemistry and stability sequences is emphasized.

Qualitative Analysis II
Students analyze complex multicomponent mixtures, designing their own sequenced procedures.

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