Monday, 10 September 2012

How to Improve Teaching about Surface Science in Schools?

Two people asked me a couple of questions in the last couple of years that got me thinking about teaching surface chemistry and surface tension better in schools.  After hearing these questions I thought that there could be a lot of improvements........

Question 1:
I was at the Biophysical Society Conference a couple of years ago.  A researcher from Seattle asked me: Why aren't there any monolayer devices in undergrad university labs?

This question surprised me.  I studied biochemistry and never really got into to biophysics until after my undergrad years.  I looked into it further and it seemed that there were not a lot of university teaching laboratories with good monolayer facilities.  Several of the teaching of monolayer happens in academic research labs.  However, several simple systems could be understood in physics, biophysics and surface chemistry laboratories using simple, inexpensive, student proof instruments.

One student proof instrument for measuring films could be the MTX.  I have seen this instrument used and abused by students in our lab.  Even after 7 years it still runs and allows our group to make interesting advances in surface science.

2) Question 2:

This was asked by colleague after saying, 'in Spain we had this really really ancient Du Nuöy ring that was all bent and we had to teach a lab with this.  The surface tension of water would come up to be 52 dynes/cm2.  I was the teacher.  Then a student asked me, 'but isn't it supposed to be 72 dynes/cm2'.  In which I replied while sweating, 'Yeah well somethings wrong with the instrument'. 

This has likely happened to many teaching assistants and professors in trying to demonstrate how to measure the surface tension of water or some other liquid.  It is a pain to actually teach using devices that are destroyed, difficult to use and difficult to calibrate.  So teachers forgo teaching about interesting fun systems like beer foam, the films covering devices like the iphone, why certain body soaps (eg. Axe vs. L'Oreal ) are better.

One student proof instrument for teaching surface tension in a lab is the AquaPi.  I have heard  from the Aalto University's chemistry teaching lab that the instrument is fast and reliable.  The students can understand surface chemistry instead of trying to make difficult measurements.

Overall buying a studentproof instrument makes everybody's lives easier!