CSI in a Lab: A Problem Solving Approach to Undergraduate Chemistry Practicals


  • Orla Fenelon
  • Carmel Breslin


Mystery, Undergraduate, Chemistry, Practical, Problem Solving, Instrument


With an ever demanding job market and industry complaints of grade inflation in the university sector, our graduates need more than just good grades to obtain successful employment. They need to be able to
demonstrate a wide variety of skills such as problem solving, team work and the ability to work on their own initiative. This paper discusses a new type of chemistry practical that tries to incorporate all of these skills
into an engaging undergraduate laboratory entitled “Mystery Death on a River”.
Chemistry undergraduate labs at present often follow the cookbook recipe approach where students follow a distinct recipe with help from a demonstrator. While these types of laboratories provide the students with
valuable skills, they inhibit the student’s ability to understand or provide insight into what they are actually doing throughout the practical (Beussman 2007). This paper discusses the advantages of a ‘Mystery Death’
laboratory where the students work in groups to solve the mystery with little help from demonstrators. The students are presented with a scenario of a death and are asked to work together to design and carryout the
experiments necessary for solving the mystery death. They are provided with glassware, chemicals and instruments to carry out the experiments and must finish the day's work with a presentation of their findings.
This study provides an interesting insight into group work, student’s skills in the laboratory, problem solving and engaging students within a relaxed laboratory environment.






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