Life just got easier for some aspiring scientists at California State University Dominguez Hills. The days of chemistry students driving back and forth from home to the Carson campus simply to analyze laboratory experiments are winding down , thanks to a $200,000-grant from W. M. Keck Foundation, which provides grants that support medical, science, and engineering research. With the money, the university’s chemistry department will purchase a mass spectrometer, a machine that determines the weight of molecules to help students determine what the molecule looks like.
When the mass spectrometer comes to campus, in just about two years, students will be able to go online and do the analysis portion of their experiments virtually anywhere with internet connection. Sixteen-year chemistry professor, Hernan Leonardo Martinez, has high hopes that the new equipment will broaden access to chemistry classes for all students by significantly reducing the amount of time required on campus.
“The idea is for a student who now comes to class and spends about three hours in the lab about 16 times during any given semester, to only have to come to campus about six times a semester by re-conceptualizing the labs using an effective hybrid approach,” said Martinez . “Our goal is to accommodate students that have a difficult time commuting to class by separating the two main components of chemistry lab: skill acquisition, such as mixing chemicals together and concept acquisition and reinforcement, the analysis of chemicals which can be done outside of the lab.”
“CSUDH should be able to attract more students into the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines that they could otherwise not attract as a result of reducing the amount of time students are required to spend in the lab,” Martinez said. “Also, given the fact that our campus is so diverse, hopefully we can address the issue of underrepresentation in the number of students in STEM disciplines.”
With the new technology, students will prepare several samples for different experiments during a physical meeting, then proceed to analyze those samples on-line.
“The faculty involved is very excited,” noted Martinez. “They know this is going to be very beneficial for the students and ultimately, the economy at large.”