Chemistry Lab Curriculum

CSP-designed chemistry curriculum for undergraduate and high school classrooms introduces engineering and green chemistry principles through the exploration of sustainable polymers.
Schools nationwide have successfully adopted CSP curriculum into their classrooms. Resources for instructors are available below for classroom incorporation. Contact Jane Wissinger (jwiss@umn.edu) with questions as you implement the labs or to share your experience, comments, or suggestions. We would love to hear how these experiments worked for you!
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High School Labs

Designing Impactful Green and Sustainable Chemistry Workshops for High School Teachers

This publication summarizes High School teacher workshops used to provide the resources and skills for MN teachers motivated to add green and sustainable chemistry to their curriculum. Details of experiments used (many representing sustainable polymers) and learning outcomes are provided. Read more in the ACS Symposium Series.

Make it and Break it: Bioplastics from plant starch with incorporation of engineering practices

We have designed a guided-inquiry version of the traditional starch-to-plastics experiment by using readily available potato, tapioca root, and corn starch in combination with a variety of additives, such as glycerol, sugar, and glue.  The resulting flexible materials can be cut into dog bone shapes and subjected to tensile testing in order to evaluate their strength.  The experimental design therefore includes engineering principles which are part of Next Generation Graduation Standards.  This inexpensive and versatile experiment introduces students to the challenges our society faces in finding environmentally-friendly solutions to today’s plastics.

 Teaching Materials

Polymeric Medical Sutures: An exploration of polymers and green chemistry

Stitches (or medical sutures) are used to teach students about the structure and properties of polymers.  Students explore a series of different molecular weights polymers of caprolactone, a degradable polymer used by the medical industry, pulling strands of threads from the polymer melt.  Tensile testing of the homemade threads and real medical sutures allows incorporation of engineering principles and analysis of data in an interactive discovery-based learning experience.  Geared to all levels of the high school classroom, this novel experiment exploits students’ familiarity with absorbable and non-absorbable stitches as a platform to discuss non-degradable and degradable polymers as well as green chemistry principles. Read the paper in the Journal of Chemical Education.

 Teaching Materials

Dyeing to Degrade: A Bioplastics Experiment for College and High School Classrooms

This experiment models green chemistry principles of design for safer chemicals, degradation, and use of renewable feedstocks. Students will also learn more about the societal connections to plastics that are accumulating in the environment and causing harm, as well as examples of successful advances in commercial bioplastics such as poly(lactide) (PLA). Potential learning outcomes of the experiment include Le Chatelier’s principle, types of intermolecular forces, hydrolysis, absorption spectroscopy, Beer’s Law, rate determinations, and graphing. Read the paper in the Journal of Chemical Education.

 Teaching Materials

Undergraduate Labs

Exploring Divergent Green Reaction Media for the Copolymerization of Biobased Monomers in the Teaching Laboratory

This experiment was developed for an upper division polymer course and explores the effect of reaction media on the copolymerization of two biobased monomers under contrasting green reaction conditions. Beta-myrcene, derived from the terpene beta-pinene, and dibutyl itaconate, a derivative of the platform chemical itaconic acid are copolymerized in an emulsion to produce an interesting tacky, elastomeric cross-linked material for study. Bulk polymerization yields a linear/branched polymer suitable for 1H NMR endgroup analysis. A version of the experiment for introductory organic chemistry laboratories is also presented. Read the paper in the Journal of Chemical Education.

 Teaching Materials.

Synthesis of a renewable resource block copolymer

Looking for a green and engaging polymer experiment to add to your organic chemistry laboratory curriculum to meet new ACS accreditation guidelines? Look no further.  We offer two versions of a polymer experiment, which begins with readily available naturally-occurring lactones, used by the flavor and fragrance industries, in combination with L-lactide to synthesize block polymers.  Analysis by 1H NMR,13C NMR, or IR spectroscopy allows quantification of each block as well as determination of molecular mass.  Students can also explore these fun materials in self-designed mechanical tests.  Successfully performed by over 4,000 students in our labs, these experiments introduce modern innovations in sustainable polymer chemistry. Read the paper Sustainable Polymers in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory: Synthesis and Characterization of a Renewable Polymer from δ-Decalactone and l-Lactide.

 Teaching Materials

Effect of size and composition on the properties of renewable copolymers

This discovery-based organic chemistry laboratory experiment involves the green synthesis of four different renewable block copolymers derived from two fragrant, naturally-occurring lactones and varying quantities poly(L-lactide), PLA. Students work in a cooperative-learning environment to explore and compare their materials and design simple adhesive, flexibility, or strength testing as a rare opportunity to “play” with their products. The experiment offers a modern approach to incorporating polymer chemistry into the curriculum with a topic, sustainable plastics, germane to everyone. Read the paper Synthesis and Study of Sustainable Polymers in the Organic Chemistry Laboratory: An Inquiry-Based Experiment Exploring the Effects of Size and Composition on the Properties of Renewable Block Polymers.

 Teaching Materials

Dyeing to Degrade: A Bioplastics Experiment for College and High School Classrooms

This experiment models green chemistry principles of design for safer chemicals, degradation, and use of renewable feedstocks. Students will also learn more about the societal connections to plastics that are accumulating in the environment and causing harm, as well as examples of successful advances in commercial bioplastics such as poly(lactide) (PLA). Potential learning outcomes of the experiment include Le Chatelier’s principle, types of intermolecular forces, hydrolysis, absorption spectroscopy, Beer’s Law, rate determinations, and graphing. Read the paper in the Journal of Chemical Education.

Outreach Experiments

Earth-Friendly Plastics

Celebrating Chemistry is designed to engage and educate children ages 9–12 (Grades 4–6) in the basic principles of chemistry. Scroll down to CCEW editions and select 2020 Sustainability Protect Our Planet through Chemistry.