May 26, 2006
The course is designed to be valuable for any budding scientist or engineer. The general aims are probably more important than the individual experiments that you will do. They are:
"Hands on experience". Chemistry is an experimental science. Scientific knowledge comes from combining what you have learned in textbooks with what you have learned in the laboratory. Many important facts are learned only in the laboratory, and in many respects, laboratory classes are as useful to your education as piano practice is to a musician. Sometimes you learn through your hands.
Familiarity with laboratory work is essential to a realistic understanding of science, even for theoreticians, and experience with the uncertainties and limitations of experimental knowledge is vital to engineers and non-technical citizens as well.
Appreciation of Quantities. Chemistry is a quantitative science. It is a valuable experience for you to develop a quantitative (as well as qualitative) appreciation for the variables involved in different processes. A keen sense of what's important and what's not important can help the experimentalist in performing experiments and can aid the theoretician to separate those ideas that really matter from those that don't. Developing this feeling for quantities takes time and experience. We don't expect you to start with it, but this laboratory should help you along the path to acquiring it.
Principles. Any action requires some level of understanding in order to be carried out successfully. (In walking you know that leaning forward is not enough, but you also have to swing your leg out to keep yourself from falling on your face.) The most important piece of laboratory apparatus you will ever work with is your head. The more you understand about the process you are studying, the more successful your experiment will be! The proof of the pudding is usually in the eating--the ability to apply basic principles to specific cases is an important measure of the understanding of the basic theory.
Work Habits. A desirable trait in a good scientist or engineer is the ability to plan and perform neat, elegant, and precise experiments. Again the most important aspect in planning and performing experiments is knowing what and why. Dexterity is much less important than patience, focus, and intelligence, and it is possible even for persons who feel clumsy to become excellent experimenters.
Thinking. Rumored to be a useful habit in science.