(130f) Products from Pandemic Labs: Custom at-Home & Benchtop Unit Operations Teaching Modules | AIChE

(130f) Products from Pandemic Labs: Custom at-Home & Benchtop Unit Operations Teaching Modules


Butterfield, A. - Presenter, University of Utah
Eddings, E., University of Utah
Silcox, G., University of Utah
Tran, T., University of Utah
Departments across the country successfully addressed the COVID-19 pandemic with a wide variety of creativity. Like many others, our department accommodated students who were necessarily off-campus, in quarantine due to illness, exposure, or being in a particularly vulnerable population. Our department’s teaching laboratories, however, were hit particularly hard by the fact that we were transitioning to a junior year unit operations series through 2021, and our last cohort of seniors were still on the old catalog year. These juniors and seniors would have been able to use the existing facilities in a normal year, but, with double occupancy, the need for social distancing required us to accommodate an inordinate number of students in chemical engineering laboratory activities, outside of a laboratory space.

To address this need at minimal cost and at scale, we relied heavily on custom 3D-printed and laser-cut parts, along with low-cost sensors, displays, and microcontrollers. All material costs were kept well under $50 for the majority of modules, and the activities replicated much of the experimentation, physical measurements, and data analysis of our existing unit operations equipment. Of course, safety was also of particular concern in module development, and each module was kept “kitchen safe.”

The process equipment developed in this work include pumps (centrifugal & peristaltic), packed beds, venturi and orifice meters, solar hydrolysis units, mason jar CSTRs, and more. This talk will describe the resulting teaching module collection, and how they have been used by students in a chemical engineering curriculum.

We are all hopeful that upcoming semesters will not require such tools or measures, and all students will have access to the irreplicable experience of operating pilot-scale unit operations equipment. However, the teaching modules developed in this work will find substantial use post-pandemic. Their potential will be discussed for K-12 outreach, traditional chemical engineering laboratories, in-class demonstrations, and in continued support for students who may need to be off-campus for extended periods.