Truman College Chemistry Studio Classroom

The Truman College chemistry studio has been the home to sections of Basic Chemistry, General Chemistry I and II, Survey of Organic, and Chemical Instrumentation (Chem 100/121, 201, 203, 212, and 217.)

In addition, it has been the site of many interdisciplinary projects:

* Art - The science of color
* Automotive Technology - Biodiesel fuel and alternative fuels
* Cosmetology - Measurement of pH and the effect of acids and bases on hair
* Criminal Justice - Analysis of evidence with GC-MS
* Education - Technology in the classroom
* Professional Development - Training for faculty at all levels: college, high school, middle school, elementary school
* Research - Student research in environmental science and chemistry

Here are my powerpoint slides and handout from the "Redesigning your Chemistry Laboratories" symposium at the 2008 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (Bloomington, IN)

A "Chemistry Studio Classroom" combines lecture and lab activities into one space, and encourages students to learn science through a continuous cycle of observation, reasoning, and experiment. Starting with the observation of physical phenomena, students begin to create their own ideas, which leads to discussions, further experiments, and new observations to refine and construct scientific understanding. The Studio Classroom makes it possible for students to perform experiments, work in small groups, share data, participate in discussions, observe demonstrations, listen to mini-lectures, and switch easily between all of these activities, all from the same seat.

The "classroom managment system" is the central technology in the room. It allows the instructor to display live demonstrations, DVDs, or anything on any computer to all computer monitors simultaneously. Therefore, each student has a front seat, and there is no back of the room. Students can write on a SmartBoard, and the writing is displayed simultaneously on all monitors. Computer based laboratory (CBL) equipment allows students to collect and share data from a wide range of instruments (temperature, pressure, mass, pH, conductivity, spectroscopy, and many others). The curriculum is also designed to eliminate the need for sinks, except for demonstrations, safety, and clean-up. Flames are replaced by microwave ovens and hot plates. Vacuum filtration is accomplished with a hand pump that in practice achieves a better vacuum than the traditional water aspirator.

This page describes the design and construction process of the Chemistry Studio Classroom at Truman College, which was completed in January 2008.

Before and After

The Construction Process

Classroom Features

Technical Specifications

Chemistry Studio Classroom: A Vision for the Future

Before and After




The Construction Process

(Picture of other Truman Studio Classrooms, or cover of catalog with studio practitioners)
In 2004, Dr. Michael Schoop, then Dean of Instruction at Truman College, wrote a successful US Dept. of Ed. Title V grant to increase student graduation rates, in part by developing of "Studio Classrooms". Roxane Assaf took over direction of the grant when Dr. Schoop assumed the presidency of Metropolitan Campus, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, Ohio. Inspired by the success with studio classrooms designed by Professor Christina Bailey at California Polytechnic University (San Luis Obispo), Dr. Schoop assembled a team of faculty to create Truman Studio Classrooms and curricula for English, Math, and Social Sciences. In early January 2007, Professor Bailey's chemistry studio classrooms again served as inspiration, this time for two new members of the studio team: Professors Charlie Abrams and Ray Torralba. They began by using computer based lab equipment in traditional Basic Chemistry classes.

Professor Abrams designed the Truman Studio Classroom based on the Cal Poly design. Smaller tables and flat-panel monitors were some of the many changes made to fit Truman's needs and available space. A full-scale cardboard mock-up of one table was used to test the design.

As the design was finalized, the "Scope of Work" was drafted by our outstanding general contractor, Centennial Construction. Funding for the project was provided by Dr. Schoop's NSF grant and by the City Colleges of Chicago (Facilities Development). The project enjoyed support from every level of the administration.

Centennial Construction began by removing the drop-down conduits in rooms 3162 and 3168. The window between the rooms will remain, and the passage between rooms will be heightened the same amount as the raised floor (4"). Airtite Flooring workers mark the positions of the floor supports, and the electrical and plumbing subcontractors (WJ Electric and Cooper-Harper Mechanical) use those as guides for the pipe and conduit. The uneven original floor becomes a perfectly level raised floor. Installation of plumbing and electrical lines is very easy with a raised tile floor system. Only drains for the emergency showers, and two other drains for sinks, needed to be drilled through the floor.

Tile supports are cemented in place

The 2' x 2' corrugated metal and concrete floor tiles are secured with screws. A standard drill bit or hole saw is all that is required to cut through the sturdy tiles for installation of electrical or A/V cables.

A shallow ramp is built at each doorway. Hand rails will extend one foot beyond the ramp, a code requirement. The floor is completed, and X marks the spots where electrical boxes will be accessed to finish installation after carpet and furniture are installed. Color samples on the wall hint at the challenge of making the room interesting and inviting, while matching the limited color selection of standard laboratory furniture.

Midwest Floor Covering installed carpet tiles (2'x2') over the floor tiles with contact cement, which makes it easy to remove a carpet tile and a floor tile for access underneath. Carpet tiles can also be easily replaced when damaged.


The chemistry laboratory requires negative pressure for adequate ventilation, so the the room air must be isolated from the rest of the building. Centennial Construction built up the walls on both sides to the "deck", meaning the true ceiling, and diverted existing ductwork. Chairs, storage cabinets, teacher station, and custom designed cluster tables were installed by furniture contractor KI. Holes will be drilled in the tables for the computer monitor mounting arm and the cable grommet. Pop-up electrical outlets on the table tops are from KI. Once the final positions of the cluster tables were determined, the tombstone electrical outlet boxes could be installed. The raised tile floor makes this easy.
Each cluster has three separate circuits powering 20 electrical outlets, and four wired ethernet connections. The laboratory furniture arrives from VWR and LabConco (purchaced through Burgoon Company) and the hallway is filled with boxes. Workers from VWR subcontractor Laboratory Installations carefully position one of the two fume hoods. Later, Centennial subcontractors installed blower motors and made final connections for HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and gas. The standard metal furniture is modular and can be removed and reinstalled in another lab. An 8" chase behind the furniture provides room for electrical, plumbing and gas connections.
(ACS Link installation picture)
The epoxy resin surface from VWR is extremely durable and resistant to corrosion by lab chemicals. Each piece is custom cut at the factory.

Notice how the professor blends in with the decor.


Final plumbing and HVAC connections were completed by Centennial subcontractors. Truman instructional technology director Mike Kritikos and his team installed computers, flat screen monitors, and articulating monitor arms. The sound system, SmartBoard, and network hardware were installed by A/V contractor Pace Systems, Inc.

The Applied Computer Systems LINK-Composite classroom management system was installed by one person using only a hole saw (to run cables through the floor) and a small screwdriver! This was a tremendous advantage because scheduling this installation would have delayed completion of the project by several weeks.

The room is ready for the first day of class, Spring 2008. Two sections of Basic Chemistry (Chem 100/121) will use the room full time, and four other chemistry classes will use the room as the curriculum for those courses is developed. January 25, 2008 - One year of hard work! After signing the final punch list, Professor Charles Abrams presents an award to Dan Hegg, construction supervisor for Centennial Construction.    


Classroom Features

(Students viewing demonstration on ELMO via ACS-LINK) (Student writing on image of graduated cylinder)
Colorful decor and comfortable chairs invite students to relax and learn. The design encourages students to work together. The classroom management system allows any image to be displayed on any or all computers, so every student has a front seat. The SmartBoard is used primarily as an input device - students can write answers on the board while the rest of the class watches on their own screens. Students can use the SmartBoard to write on images from the microscope or document camera.
The teacher station includes (from left to right) a sheet feed scanner, a computer, classroom management system touch screen, and ELMO document camera. The SmartBoard on far wall is connected to teachers computer. A second document camera is attached to a microscope for demonstrations. Not shown: room lighting controls at teacher station, DVD/VCR, six ceiling mounted speakers, and an audio amplifier with separate channels for the computer, DVD/VCR, and auxilliary input (including iPod!) Three microwave ovens in the lab are used in place of flames for experiments, e.g. water of hydration. All computers print to the centrally located laser printer. Teacher station cabinets allow storage of demos and supplies. Four position switch used in conjuction with the touch screen selects the auxiliary input: ELMO document camera, DVD/VCR, microscope, or VGA cable for laptop.
Flat panel monitors on flexible arms and extention cables on the keyboard and mouse allow either student comfortable use of the computer. One student can operate the data collection software while the other controls the experiment. Four position USB 2.0 hub by Belkin doubles as a cable grommet. Pop-up power supply on the table top can be used for a hot plate/stirrer, UV light source, or other experiments. Computers are mounted on the privacy skirt/cable management tray with Velcro tape. No cables hang near the floor where they could be kicked or disrupted by books.
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A small unpowered box connects each computer and monitor to the classroom management system. The prep/instrument room includes a quadrupole GC/MS Chemicals and glassware are stored on carts Assistant desk with separate computer


Technical Specifications

Classroom management system (Applied Computer Systems "LINK - Composite System")
- Send any computer screen to all other screens and to projector
- Works with full screen live video and is compatible with all software (unlike software based systems)
- Control any computer from teacher station or any other computer
- Monitor student screens from teacher station
- Project any image from any VGA source (document camera, microscope, DVD/VCR with VGA converter, or laptop)
- VGA boxes under each cluster table distribute video and keyboard/mouse control without additional power requirement

Ocean Optics VIS-NIR Spectrometer (Studio has 9 spectrometers)
- Real time emission spectra with fiber optic cable make observations of spectral lines and blackbody radiation much clearer.
- Light source and sample holding attachments for real-time absorption studies.

Ocean Optics UV-VIS Spectrometer (Studio has 9 spectrometers)
- Real time absorption spectra
- Can be used as an emission spectrometer

PASCO Computer Based Laboratory (CBL) instruments
- Probes for temperature, pH, pressure, mass, ORP, galvanometer, colorimeter, drop counter, others.
- Pressure vs. volume apparatus (with temperature probe to insure constant temperature)
- Pressure vs. temperature apparatus ("Absolute zero sphere")
- Hand held GLX devices for measurements in the field

Other Instruments:
- Shimadzu QP-2010 quadrupole GC/MS with autosampler will be installed in February 2008
- Anasazi FT-NMR spectrometer is available in Room 3831k
- Mattson FT-IR spectrometer is available in Room 3831k

Microscope (with attached camera)
- Demonstrations of crystallization, diffusion, precipitation, dissolution, crystals under crossed polarization filters
- Video from VGA output is live, full motion; output from USB port can be used with SmartBoard

Document Camera (separate from microscope camera)
- Notes written on regular 8x11 paper allow students to learn note-taking skills by copying professor.
- After lecture, notes are scanned in and posted online as .pdf file
- Demonstrations can be smaller scale but every student has a front seat and can see the demonstrations clearly.
- Video from VGA output is live, full motion; output from USB port can be used with SmartBoard

WebCamera (February 2008)
- Allows class or teacher to use iChat A/V to converse with scientists around the world by video chat

SmartBoard (one on side of room)
- Students use the SmartBoard to write answers to problems written on the document camera
- Can write on images from document camera or microscope (USB output)
- Can operate teacher station software from SmartBoard (i.e. Google Earth, ChemSketch)

Audio system
- 6 speakers in ceiling
- Amplifier has channels for teacher computer, DVD/VCR, or auxilliary input
- Can connect laptop or iPod to play music or sounds
- Can play internet radio (i.e. many stations from around the world) via teacher computer
- No feedback problems when using iChat A/V

- VGA converter allows video signal from DVD or VCR to be played on all student computer screens

Sheet feed scanner
- Quickly converts notes written on document camera into PDF files for upload to Blackboard

- One desktop computer for each pair of students. This is NOT a computer lab; students use the computer for data collection and sharing, and viewing demonstrations.
- Keyboard and mouse are cheap to replace if damaged by chemicals
- Small desktop computers are mounted on cable management panel with Velcro

Software (all site licensed or free except as noted)
- DataStudio is the primary data collection software from PASCO
- GLX Simulator mimics the hand-held version of the PASCO/DataStudio suite
- SpectraSuite is the data collection software for the Ocean Optics UV-VIS and VIS-NIR spectrometers
- NUTS is NMR data processing software
- WinFirst is IR data processing software
- GC/MS data processing software will be installed in February
- ChemSketch is a free program for drawing chemistry structures
- IR Tutor was written by Professor Abrams to teach infrared spectroscopy interpretation
- NMR Tutor was written by Professor Abrams to teach FT-NMR theory
- Spectroscopy is a DOS program which teaches IR, NMR, and MS interpretation
- Chemistry Comes Alive is a set of 8 CD's with video demonstrations (installed on teacher station only)
- ALEKS is a web based student homework system for chemistry (trial run Spring 08)
- LINK Systems software (part of classroom mgt system) allows control of each computer remotely
- Google Earth is a free program for viewing satellite images
- Celestia is a free program for viewing a model of the solar system, galaxy, and universe
- Stellarium is a free program that simulates the day and night sky

Microwave ovens (3 around room)
- Replaces flames in water of hydration experiment and other experiments

Cluster tables
- Custom designed to foster collaborative learning, work while sitting or standing
- Wood laminate tops are sufficient for mini and microscale general chemistry (aqueous)
- Tables can be lowered for wheelchair access (2 hour job)
- Pop-up power supply
- USB 2.0 ports on table top at grommet hole
- Flat panel monitors with flexible monitor arms to allow one or both students comfortable view
- The room seats 32 students, the same number of students as our "traditional" labs.

Lab benches
- Resin tops, gas supply, lots of outlets, useful for demonstrations or reagent distribution
- Sinks with emergency eye wash, aspirator, separate cold water tap, soap and paper towels
- Modular design allows easy modification of room layout
- Glass-door cabinets allow simultaneous display and storage of interesting demonstrations

- Goggle sterilizer holds 36 pairs
- Eyewash stations at sinks
- Safety showers, fire blankets and fire extinguishers at exits
- Broken glass receptacles
- Two blowers, two ventilation hoods, continuous negative pressure in room

Prep and Instrument room (3168)
- Wheeled carts are used to store and transport student glassware kits and reagents for experiments
- Networking distribution box serves entire southeast corner of the building
- Storage and maintenance of all CBL equipment
- Desk, computer, and bookshelf for lab assistant
- Ventilation hood includes service for gas, nitrogen (from in-lab tank), water

Raised tile floor
- Flexible system allows easy modification of room layout
- Eases installation of inert gas lines (N2, He) and classroom management cables
- Saved time and money for plumbing and electrical installation
- Minimized disruption of occupants of 2nd floor
- Carpet provides sound insulation and comfortable, welcoming environment
- Carpet tiles are glued with contact cement, can be replaced easily if damaged
- "Tombstone" style electrical boxes in floor with 20 outlets on 3 circuits per cluster, and four network outlets
- All electrical circuits are labeled, so no high amp device is on same circuit as computers

- Good sight lines through room
- No "back of the room"
- Warm, welcoming colors
- Comfortable chairs and tables that adjust for wheelchair access
- Carpet provides good sound insulation, making the room quiet in spite of ventilation hoods
- Reproductions of three works of art, from a National Science Foundation collection
- Track lighting for highlights
- 6 speakers in ceiling


Truman College Chemistry Studio Classroom: A Vision of the Future
Charles Abrams, Department of Physical Science & Engineering, Truman College.

The traditional lecture-lab format for teaching chemistry does not give the student the opportunity to explore and discover scientific principles. Instead, the traditional laboratory experiments only confirm theoretical principles already discussed in the class. Often students in the laboratory complain that they are not sure what they “should” get, as if the actual observations were not the most important part of the experiment! Science should be taught the way it is practiced: a continuous cycle of observation, reasoning, and experiment, starting with observation. Research in chemistry education suggests that discovery based learning leads to better understanding of the material and improved retention of students in the class.
By combining lecture and lab in a "studio classroom", students can start with the observation of a physical phenomenon, begin to create their own theory, and be led to further experiments and observations to refine and construct scientific understanding. The classroom should make it possible for students to do experiments, work in small groups, share data, participate in discussions, observe demonstrations, listen to lectures, and switch easily between all of these activities - all from the same seat. The focus should be kept on the experiments, not on the instructor.
The studio classroom model is most appropriate for Basic and General Chemistry (Chem 100/121, Chem 201, and Chem 203). It is not suitable for Organic Chemistry (Chem 205, 207, 212) due to ventilation, plumbing, and hazardous chemical requirements of those classes.
Professor Christina Bailey at California Polytechnic Institute (CalPoly) created a chemistry studio that has served as a national model. Ray Torralba and I visited in early January 2007. I created a similar design for Truman College.
The biggest change from a traditional laboratory is the elimination of plumbing, gas, air, or ventilation at each student station (cluster). Butane torches are available to instructors for demonstrations. There are only electrical and internet connections at each cluster! Cal Poly encountered only very few problems with keyboards ruined by chemicals, but the use of desktop computers is preferred due to ease of keyboard replacement in case of a spill (they replaced about 6 over the 5 years of operation of their 64-student lab). Some other precautions (reagents in tubs, balances at side tables) are also helpful. Flat panel monitors will save desk space for the Truman studio, and allowed us to cut 1 foot from both the length and width of the cluster (nearly 20% smaller footprint).
The classroom management system (Applied Computer Systems Composite-LINK) allows the instructor to display live demos, DVDs, or transmit anything on any computer in the classroom on all other computers in the room simultaneously. Also, the instructor can take over keyboard and mouse control of any computer. This hardware system allows display of full-screen live video, which is important for demonstrations in the studio format. Software based systems often can not handle full-screen live video. With the ACS Composite LINK system, every student has a front seat to lecture notes, demonstrations, video, microscope images, etc.
Computer based laboratory (CBL) instrumentation from PASCO allows students to collect data rapidly and share data easily. For example, students can run the titration of an amino acid and obtain pH values for every DROP of titrant added (over 500 data points), and the entire run can be completed in 5 minutes! Temperature vs time plots can help students recognize thermal equilibrium in calorimetry experiments. Our curiculum is also designed to eliminate need for flames and sinks, except for demonstrations, safety, and clean-up. Flames are replaced by microwave ovens on side benches and hot plates at each cluster. Vacuum filtration is accomplished with a hand pump that in practice achieves a better vacuum than a water aspirator. The only connections at each cluster are power, internet and classroom management cables.
Based on CalPoly’s experience, chemical spills are not expected to be a problem because of the small volumes of chemicals used, modern pump-dispensing equipment, and other precautions where necessary. If a carpet tile is damaged by chemical corrosion, it can be replaced easily.