Modernization of the undergraduate chemistry labs: integration of instrument data management into digital learning opportunities

Modernization of the Undergraduate Chemistry Labs: Integration of Instrument Data Management into Digital Learning Opportunities

“The LEAF funds are being used for equipment and personnel to connect analytical instruments to the network to make better use of student-generated spectral data by integration with online tools…”

– Dr. Andrew Dicks


This project is designed to promote students’ communication, collaborative, and analytical thinking skills, while better aligning their laboratory experience with current practices in research laboratories and industrial settings. The project benefits students across the full range of chemistry undergraduate courses and will eventually total 850-1000 students per academic session. The LEAF funds are being used for equipment and personnel to connect analytical instruments to the network to make better use of student-generated spectral data by integration with online tools such as Quercus and Office 365. Associated with this are curricular improvements including new laboratory activities and course assignments. Access to digital data allows for more varied, more authentic, and more in-depth analysis of student laboratory results: this opens the door to interesting, and realistic, collaborative approaches to problem solving. This kind of technology-enabled curriculum redesign is a first in our department for our larger laboratory courses. We anticipate that in the future, more of our undergraduate laboratory instruments will be connected to the network, as will instruments in other physical and life science departments. As such, many of the outcomes of this project will be transferable to these future projects.


Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Arts & Science

Project lead(s)

Professor Andrew Dicks

Professor Barbora Morra

Dr. Jared Mudrik

Professor John De Backere

Year LEAF Granted


Funding Stream


LEAF Priority Area(s)

Curriculum Design

Digital Learning


Impact of the Project on Students

The project will impact students in the following courses:

  1. CHM 247H Winter 2020 – 450 students
  2. CHM 238Y Winter 2020 – 80 students
  3. CHM 343H Winter 2020 – 29 students
  4. CHM 238Y Fall 2020/Winter 2021 – 80 students
  5. CHM 338H Winter 2021 – 40 students
  6. CHM 343H Winter 2021 – 28 students

Future plans

It is challenging to say for sure as there is still a further year left on the grant. It depends somewhat on what equipment is purchased for the second year.

Resources Developed from the Project

As one example, a redesigned CHM 247H organic laboratory curriculum was implemented during the 2020 Winter semester. With the LEAF-funded acquisition of computers and processing software to accompany the infra-red spectrometers already in place in the undergraduate laboratory, student data was collected and disseminated in a digital format. Using this new platform, student data was made available in an online spectral database which gave students the opportunity to engage in interactive digital analysis, peer collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. These changes provided an enriched learning environment for students while they performed structure elucidation to identify unknowns, analyze products and reactions and evaluate data quality. These course modifications helped promote proficiency in spectroscopic analysis and better prepared students for upper year undergraduate laboratory courses and future research opportunities.

A second example is that implemented into an upper-year laboratory (CHM 338H) during the Winter 2021 semester, which operated in-person despite the COVID-19 pandemic. In this course, all spectroscopic data (infra-red and ultraviolet/visible) collected in four out of the five experiments used the network upgrade for students to save and access (online through Quercus) their own digital data and plot/analyze their spectra using Microsoft Excel. This digital format allowed students to communicate their results by directing incorporating these spectra into publication type templates. Furthermore, the ability to save the spectra as data point files and plot overlapping spectra on the same graph enabled more complex and in-depth comparisons/analysis. This circular innovation would not be possible without the LEAF project funding.