The Chemistry Division of the Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area (a consortium of 15 small liberal arts colleges), spearheaded by the Chemistry Department at Aurora University, is introducing Powder X-Ray Diffraction (PXDR) instrumentation to undergraduate chemistry students and to K-12 pre-service and in-service teachers. The four goals the project is achieving are: (1) Delivering a two-week, 60-contact hour, 4 credit, research-oriented, solid-state/materials course, through workshops, to the large, broad and diverse undergraduate population served by the consortium, with the course being offered at three distinct times. (2) Delivering summertime research-oriented workshops for pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers that focus on complex instrumentation as applied to synthesis of inorganic materials with potential applications in catalysis, waste remediation, alternative energy, or photonics. (3) Integrating solid-state and materials chemistry coupled with the PXRD instrument across all levels of the undergraduate curriculum at the lead institution. (4) Enhancing research training of upper-division students through undergraduate research experiences built around easy access to a PXRD instrument.
The project is establishing the efficacy of a workshop-style, highly-focused, and time-condensed course in providing significant, research-driven laboratory experiences to students at a time when this is their only intellectual commitment. The project also aims to motivate students to become enthusiastic about chemistry in general, and solid-state chemistry in specific. A long term goal is to increase the number of students who enter graduate programs in solid-state chemistry or who are tapped as highly qualified candidates for the materials industry. The use of the instrument in the support of faculty-mentored research is leading to new experimental findings as well as in the training of next-generation graduate students.
The variety of students eligible for the condensed-format course, from the consortium schools, is ensuring a diverse audience. The coupling of the project to the needs of pre-service and in-service teachers is uniquely presenting hands-on access to sophisticated instrumentation in a deliberate attempt to engender enthusiasm and excitement about the research-based nature of chemistry. The project's courses, workshops, and approach, built around a modestly priced, widely useful instrument can serve as a model for adoptions and adaptations by many other institutions.