Learning about Life through Laboratory Chemistry with Drs. John Dolhun & Sarah Hewett

Students in MIT’s course 5.310 Laboratory Chemistry have a state-of-the art lab to work in, with energy-saving hibernating fume hoods and a new spectrometer that achieves mind-blowingly precise measurements—not parts per million or parts per billion, but parts per trillion! And the students do spend much of their time in that new lab. But Dr. John Dolhun, director of the Undergraduate Chemistry Teaching Labs at MIT, who taught 5.310 for many years, and Dr. Sarah Hewett, who currently teaches it, make sure that the course doesn’t take place entirely behind closed doors. One of the lab activities involves collecting water samples from the Charles River and analyzing them for dissolved oxygen and contaminants such as phosphates. This activity, named the “Ellen Swallow Richards Lab” after an environmental chemist who was also the first female student at MIT, ensures that the coursework is grounded in real-world concerns. In this episode, Dr. Dolhun and Dr. Hewett discuss that lab and other topics, such as how to teach perseverance, why their course emphasizes ways of communicating science to an audience of nonscientists, and the importance of sharing educational resources.


Relevant Resources

MIT OpenCourseWare

The OCW Educator Portal

Share your teaching ideas and insights with John Dolhun and Sarah Hewett

Dr. Dolhun and Dr. Hewett’s course on OCW

ChemLab Boot Camp video series on OCW

Ellen Swallow Richards biography at Wikipedia

MIT Spectrum article on the new undergraduate chemistry labs

MIT News article on energy-saving measures in the undergraduate chemistry labs

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions


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Sarah Hansen, host and producer 

Brett Paci, producer  

Dave Lishansky, producer 

Script writing assistance by Aubrey Calaway

Show notes by Peter Chipman

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