E. Espada Bellido, G. Fernández Barbero

University of Cadiz (SPAIN)
“Chemicals are bad and dangerous”- Chemists are tired of listening things like that. But unfortunately these days, the term “chemicals” is colloquially misrepresented. Thus, a positive image of chemistry for the general public is necessary. This was the principal objective of the creation of this new subject, to increase public understanding of the important role of chemistry in everyday life. It’s time to start opening more minds to the idea that “chemical” is not a bad word, chemicals are actually fascinating, and we can’t exist without them.

Because of that, this academic year 2013-2014 a new subject of 2 ECTS called “Introduction to chemical laboratory” was proposed for the Course of Senior citizens in Algeciras Campus at the University of Cadiz. A total of 66 students (retired, housewifes,...) with ages between 50-82 took part in the subject. The new subject consisted of 10 lessons where the students got involved in the real work of a chemist wearing their own lab coat, goggles and gloves.

Every lesson was divided in two parts: firstly, a brief introduction of the contents and vocabulary of the new topic was given to the students in the lecture room and then the practical session was carried out in the laboratory.

Different topics were presented to the students to show them the most important concepts of basic chemistry and the essential laboratory procedures to work in a chemical lab:
1. Welcome to the lab (Laboratory safety rules, materials and basic laboratory procedures)
2. Chemical reactions (From iodine clock reaction to rainbow, alcohol test,…)
3. Formation of a precipitate. Filtration
4. The concept of pH. Measurement of pH using indicators
5. Cleaning of materials
6. Titration. Determination of the vinager acidity
7. Liquid-Liquid extraction
8. Titration. Determination of Vitamin C in orange juice
9. Thin layer chromatography. Separation of pigments
10. UV-Vis spectrophotometry

Due to the variety of contents, the students could learn new vocabulary related to lab material and basic chemistry, they could understand the chemistry of everyday life or even could analyse well known substances in food. The last day of contact, although the evaluation of the students was not necessary, a final test as a game was developed for refreshing the new concepts and to have an idea about the learning of the students. Moreover, a survey to evaluate the new subject was carried out. Excellent results were obtained with both activities.

It is noteworthy to mention the enormous interest of the students, the impressive participation and attendance to the lessons and the high level of motivation of the students.

In conclusion, with this subject students had the chance to work as real chemists for more than one month and the professors had the opportunity to share with them their love for chemistry.