(676i) Results From a First-Year Chemical Engineering Design Laboratory

Authors: 
Butterfield, A., University of Utah



Students within chemical engineering departments do not, on average, encounter a laboratory course specifically geared towards chemical engineering until their junior or senior years.  Up to that point, laboratory experiences are found within chemistry and physics departments or general engineering labs, and chemical engineering courses often keep to a traditional lecture style.  However, this structure may leave valuable pedagogical tools underutilized.  Inclusion of hands-on interactive and collaborative teaching methods, such as those typically found in lab courses, have been found to increase student conceptual learning, student satisfaction with their department, and student retention, particularly in underrepresented groups.

We have developed a freshman chemical engineering design course and laboratory, Chemical Engineering Design & Innovation. This course is intended for students in the second semester of our curriculum, to be taken after a more traditional lecture course covering an introduction to chemical engineering. Students in this laboratory collaborate in teams, and, through guided inquiry, achieve a variety of design goals related to many chemical engineering core concepts. 

Teaching modules developed for this course include: 1. an introduction to and assembly of basic sensors; 2. design of a spectrophotometer and determination of reaction kinetic parameters; 3. creation of a process to generate an alginate drug delivery product and determination of its mass transfer characteristics; 4. photobioreactor design and determination of microbial growth kinetics. 5. biodiesel creation, characterization, and process scale-up. Students also complete a collaborative project to assist our seniors in their capstone laboratory course in order to create social connections, transfer important knowledge about courses and internships across cohorts, and develop job application skills needed to obtain internships.

This freshman course is also meant to act as a launching platform for effective, evidence-based pedagogy throughout the remainder of our curriculum.  Each module acts as an anchor point to which students may affix important chemical engineering concepts, and through which difficult theory may be revisited later in their academic career.  As such, some of the teaching modules have been brought into upper-level courses to create active-learning projects and address relevant theory with newly-gained sophistication. 

Results from student surveys indicate that the goals of this course have been successfully achieved.  Students have used their hands-on experience to develop insights into important chemical engineering phenomena.  They have developed prototyping and data-analysis skills that have greatly increased the employability of our freshmen in faculty research programs and local industry. Students also report well above average satisfaction with the course and its open-ended design projects, and they have effectively developed valuable social connections with both peers and graduating seniors.