This page focuses on the course 5.301 Chemistry Laboratory Techniques as it was taught by Dr. John Dolhun in January 2012.
Chemistry Laboratory Techniques is a "boot camp" course offering motivated first year MIT students intensive practical training in fundamental chemistry lab techniques within a condensed intra-semester session. It is intended to equip students who pass this rigorous course with the skills necessary to undertake original research projects in Chemistry. The class has limited enrollment and is only open to first year students. It prepares students for UROP positions by providing them with state of the art lab experiences and the opportunity to master essential techniques and skills.
Students receive practical training in nearly all of the basic laboratory techniques. The goal of the course is to provide first year MIT students with the organizational and practical laboratory skills necessary to undertake original research projects in Chemistry.
Because freshman are not eligible to enroll in regular Chemistry lab courses, this course has been designed to give motivated first year students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a lab. The course also focuses on developing students' scientific writing and oral presentation skills.
Through a series of lab experiments, students sharpen their critical thinking, scientific and logical reasoning, and oral and written communication skills. Some of the techniques mastered in this course include transfer and manipulation of small quantities of chemical compounds and purification methods for liquid and solid substances including distillation, recrystallization, and column chromatography. Another component of the course is structure determination, which includes theory and operation of an NMR, infrared, UV, and mass spectrometer.
Students are routinely required to run instruments and interpret data to substantiate products obtained from their experiments. They maintain lab notes, provide an oral report on a topic related to their experimental results, and write a formal lab report on original research. At the completion of 5.301, students feel comfortable in the research lab and may secure a guaranteed UROP in their spring term in Chemistry.
Students pursue UROPs in the Chemistry Department and in other departments.
Below, Dr. John Dolhun describes various aspects of teaching 5.301 Chemistry Laboratory Techniques.
Most students who enroll in this intensive course have had basic or AP high school Chemistry; however, some of their AP classes may not have had lab components. Other students have had basic labs such as titrations. Additionally, students often come with lab experiences in other fields such as Psychology, Biology and Physics. Typically they take courses at MIT such as: 5.111, 5.112, 8.01, 8.012, 8.03, and 18.02.
Many students have had little Chemistry lab experience at MIT, but have been exposed to the theoretical side of the subject matter. They like Chemistry, or are interested in it, but are still unsure about what their major will be. They are interested in learning new lab techniques, learning how to work in a research lab and how to correctly present their research results.
Enrollment is capped at 14. Students completing 5.301 are guaranteed a UROP with a Chemistry faculty member. The limited number of guaranteed UROP positions dictates the enrollment cap in 5.301.
The ideal class size is 12-14 students. This number of students allows instructors to provide freshmen, who come with limited lab experience, with the supervision and support they need to succeed in the course. This class size also enables instructors to maintain rigorous safety standards in the lab. A class of 12-14 students is ideal for holding productive group meetings and for allowing students to deliver oral reports. The limited number of UROP positions is also a consideration in keeping this class small.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 35 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows: