Chemistry practicals: Virtual reactions

Jul 23, 2021

Lab practicals enriched with online videos—that is the goal of a group of LMU chemists working with colleagues from Paris, Murcia and Cardiff. Their multilingual project is supported by an ERASMUS program.

“Huh?” you hear at the beginning of the instructional video, followed by a slightly exasperated “Oh no!”. In just under three minutes, to a background of lively music, the basics of filtration are explained—along with the things you should definitely avoid: filters that are too small and sink into the test tube, acids that eat into the filter paper, and many other faux pas in the lab. The LMU Chemistry Department has created dozens of online tutorials on working techniques in organic chemistry in recent years. The series of lab videos goes by the name of “VidBibOCP”. Titles range from “Drying in the Desiccator” to “Column Chromatography” to “Weighing and Pipetting” and are in German.

As part of a cooperation project with the universities of Murcia, Cardiff and Sorbonne (Paris), these videos are now being grouped and adapted for other languages. Supported by an EU ERASMUS+ program, the “LABVIRT” project will thus benefit Spanish, English and French speaking students as well. The goal here is to integrate digital content with learning in a real-life laboratory, explains the project leader for LMU, Professor Hendrik Zipse. “This is the best way for us to train people right now given the challenging conditions we’re currently facing in the pandemic, which has reduced the amount of time students can spend in the lab.”

The LMU video library, which forms the basis for the new offering, was created over the past three years by Professor Zipse and his colleague Benjamin Pölloth in the Department of Chemistry. It is aimed at students on the basic practical course in organic chemistry—which is the first time the budding chemists get to experiment in the lab. There are three types of videos to help students learn the many new tricks of the trade: tutorials on basic working techniques, humorous clips on the “don’ts”, i.e. typical mistakes and sources of danger in the lab, along with step-by-step walk-throughs of entire experiments. Supported by the “Lehre@LMU” program, the series presents the majority of experiments in the basic practical course in abridged form—everything from setting up a reaction to purifying chemical products.

The four universities involved in LABVIRT are currently working on adapting the language of the key videos so that they can also be used for lab practicals in Paris, Murcia and Cardiff in the winter semester of 2021. Some videos are already available on the LABVIRT website—such as the French version of the “don’ts” in filtration: “Comment fait-on... Une filtration?” overlaid by a bright red “NON!”. More of the videos in different languages will be added in the coming weeks. As an additional bonus, this will give German students an insight into how to talk about chemistry in other European languages too.

The LABVIRT project aims at the development of instructional videos for entry-level organic chemistry laboratory classes. The project builds on an initial video library generated at the LMU Muenchen under initial sponsorship through the Lehre@LMU program. Current extensions and adaptions into English, French, and Spanish are supported by the ERASMUS+ program and undertaken together with Cardiff University (Cardiff, UK), Sorbonne Université (Paris, France), and Universidad de Murcia (Murcia, Spain).