Although practical work continues to be considered an essential part of any science or engineering degree opportunities for experimentation, in many courses, have decreased in recent years, due to escalating costs and limited resources. However, it might be preferable to reduce the cost of the experiments carried out, rather than to try to save money by reducing their number.
Designing low-cost experiments to keep costs down can lead to a range of potential benefits. Such experiments tend to make use of cheap, readily available, often in the household, materials, that may often be obtained at a supermarket or hardware store and in general require only small amounts of chemicals. Furthermore, low-cost experiments usually can be performed relatively quickly without requiring special accommodation or expensive equipment, enabling them to be carried out in a normal classroom or even at home. As such experiments tend to use only small amounts of readily available starting materials there is little storage requirement for chemicals and disposal of any chemical waste tends to be relatively simple and cheap.
Low-cost experiments offer a number of potential advantages over more conventional laboratory work:
- They offer inherently higher levels of safety because of the smaller amounts of chemicals required. The potential for accidents and for exposure to toxic compounds is reduced. This enables students to carry out experiments with minimal supervision.
- They offer flexibility in the location where experimentation can be carried out and experiments can even be assigned as coursework.
- The disposal of any waste produced tends to be cheaper and more straightforward.
Some potentially useful approaches to developing low-cost experiments are listed below:
- Devise experiments using substances readily available in the household.
- Reduce costs and environmental impacts by using microscale experiments.
- Base experiments on resources obtainable from medical engineering, aquarium or home improvement stores.
- Carry out experiments in petri dishes or on spot plates.
- Carry out experiments using household packaging and plastic bottles
Further information can be found at:
- Bradley, J. D., Durbach, S., Bell, B., & Mungarulire, J. (1998). Hands-On Practical Chemistry for All - Why and How. Journal of Chemical Education, 75 (11), 1406 - 1409.
- Hugerat, M., Schwarz, P., & Livneh, M. (2005). Microscale Chemistry Experimentation for all Ages. Haifa: The Academic Arab College for Education.
- Poppe, Nicole; Markic, Silvija; Eilks, Ingo (2011): Low cost experimental techniques for science education. Bremen: SALiS Project.
- The-radmaste-microscience-System. (2010). The UNESCO-Associated Centre for Microscience Experiments: http://www.microsci.org.za/RADMASTEBrochure.pdf (Last accessed on 25th February 2014).
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