19 August 2019

Grant for travelling lab experiment

Utrecht students bring secondary school chemistry to life

Studenten begeleiden scholieren tijdens scheikundepracticum

Some chemistry experiments are too big, too expensive, or too dangerous for secondary schools to conduct on their own. Nevertheless, it is vital that pupils can gain experience conducting experiments in order to understand complex issues. Utrecht University has therefore come up with a solution: a travelling lab experiment. The vice-deans of Dutch faculties of science believe that this wonderful initiative deserves support, so they have decided to subsidise the lab and similar projects by two other universities with a grant of 40,000 euros.

Visiting more schools

Over the past two years, Utrecht University has already offered its travelling lab experiment free of charge to more than 15 schools. The travelling lab was developed with the help of a small grant from the Chemistry Department. Second- and third-year students supervise the experiments in the classroom. The new grant will allow the lab to visit even more schools, and give the University of Amsterdam and the University of Twente the opportunity to development their own lab projects. Eventually, a single website will be created offering all three lab experiments together and with three locations the scope will be much larger. 

Making industry more sustainable

Utrecht University's lab experiment deals with catalysis and gas chromatography. During the lesson, pupils study the yields of different catalysts for the conversion of methane into carbon dioxide. They then measure the reaction products using a portable gas chromatograph. “Catalysis plays a vital role in making industrial processes more sustainable”, explains Paulien van Bentum, project leader for the travelling lab experiment. “That makes it an important issue for the future. Our lab experiment really brings the material to life for the students.”

Teaching experience

Van Bentum emphasises that the lab experiment doesn’t just make the material easier to understand. “Secondary school pupils get a glimpse of the career perspectives open to researchers and study programmes, and are introduced to complex industrial problems”, she says. “Plus, the students who supervise the experiments learn what it’s like to teach in a classroom setting. That also helps increase enrolments in teaching programmes.” The subsidy funding is provided from the university sector plan funds. Over the period 2018-2022, the deans of the Dutch faculties of science have decided to free up a bit more than half a million euros per year for national outreach and informational projects for physics and chemistry.

Click here for more information about this project (in Dutch).