E. Strocchi, S. Torroni, F. Trifiro

University of Bologna (ITALY)
For a number of years, young people's growing disaffection towards scientific subjects has been apparent in the constant reduction of their enrollment in scientific university courses.
The “Scientific Degrees in Chemistry” Project was directed to both teachers and undergraduate students active in districts of the Emilia-Romagna region gravitating around the University of Bologna Multicampus (Bologna, Cesena, Forlì, Ravenna, Rimini). It was organized by the University of Bologna and the Regional Authority of Education as a part of a larger national plan, supported by the Ministry of Education,University and Research together with the National Conference of Presidents of Science and Technology Faculties and the Confederation of Italian Chemical Industry.
The aims of the project were:
1. to increase undergraduate students’ interest in chemistry and to drive them towards chemical issues related to both advanced research and everyday life
2. to increase teachers' knowledge of the applications of chemistry
Three lines of action were pursued: 1) experimental activities in chemistry directed to undergraduate students, performed in University laboratories; 2) training for teachers and 3) conferences and demonstrative activities for students and teachers.
The Project involved a total of 224 schools with 625 teachers and 11729 undergraduate students, 4 University Departments and 10 external institutions.
The sub-projects and experimental activities were:
- Chemistry and cultural heritage: Synthesis and recognition of pigments; preparation of temper and analytical investigations on real samples.
- The chemistry in everyday life: Indigo for trousers and malachite for silk; the metals from everyday life to the racing world:electron microscopy and "failure analysis"; NMR analysis for altered wine; the design of biologically active molecules using computers; polymers in everyday life; characterization of micropollutants in urban air.
- Chemistry and materials: Preparation of dyed glass by sol-gel synthesis; nanomaterials: chemical/physical behavior according to particle size; polymeric materials: synthesis of nylons.
- The methods of chemistry through guided laboratory experiences: Chemical kinetics: effects of temperature and catalysts; analysis of vitamin C in lemon juice and its degradation rate; analysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in leaves of evergreens; analysis of iron and PAH in soil.
- Chemistry and biology in forensic investigations: Search for hemoglobin traces using the Luminol test; separation and recognition of drugs; research and quantification of metals in gunshot residues by atomic absorption; isolation of DNA and RNA from samples; extraction of human DNA from saliva and amplification by PCR.
- Chemistry and Environment: Monitoring PAHs, PM10 and PM2.5 in the urban air.
- Chemistry and Food: Analysis of synthetic dyes in candies; natural dyes and their derivatives; characterization of mineral waters.
The results of the evaluation questionnaires compiled by students and teachers after the laboratory experiments showed that the experience was properly planned and performed and was well appreciated.
The experiences helped undergraduate students to better understand the role of chemistry (75% of the cases) and were useful in 52% of the cases for the selection of future studies. Teachers had a positive attitude toward the activities in 100% of the cases and received educational ideas from the activities in 96% of cases.