The Lab_14 Collaboration
Winner: 2021 Horizon Prize for Education
University College London
For the development of a 1st year undergraduate remote laboratory experience, which provides students with a ‘chemistry kit for the 21st century’ and places a focus on measurement within everyday contexts.
Celebrate The Lab_14 Collaboration
The Lab_14 Collaboration is a team from University College London who during lockdown sent chemistry equipment to students in locations across the world to support learning at home. The group of lecturers, lab technicians and students at UCL worked together to start the initiative, which involved sending kits to students who were forced to study from home in the summer of 2020, when strict COVID-19 restrictions were in place. The kits were comprised of a range of instruments which allowed students to measure the world around them and collect data to assess their findings. Thanks to its success, UCL are taking elements of the initiative forward. The chemistry department are continuing to provide kits to students so they can choose to do their own practical work or to make use of the university labs moving forward.
The teamSee full team
Dr Liz Munday, Lecturer, UCL Chemistry
Dr Sabrina Simoncelli, Lecturer, UCL Chemistry
Prof Christoph Salzmann, Lecturer, UCL Chemistry
Prof Daren Caruana, Lecturer, UCL Chemistry
Ms Helena Wong, Lab technician, UCL Chemistry
Ms Hannah Shalloe, Lab technician, UCL Chemistry
Ms Miranda Molloy, Undergraduate intern, UCL Chemistry
Mr Harry Li, Undergraduate intern, UCL Chemistry
Sergio Garcia Busto, Undergraduate intern, UCL Chemistry
Alice Henley, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Catherine Webley, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Manish Trivedi, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Manni Yang, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Benji Thoma, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Omri Tau, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Belen Sola Barrado, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Panagiotis Fikas, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Minyan Lyu, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Jasper Fairchild, Postgraduate teaching fellow, UCL Chemistry
Saeed Said, UCL Chemistry Reception and Security, UCL Chemistry
Alan Philcox, Head of Teaching labs, UCL Chemistry
Ruby Wright, Artist in Residence, UCL Plastics Hub/Freelance
Aidan Kerrigan, A-level volunteer tester
Jack Dalgleish, A-level volunteer tester
Martin Whitworth, External volunteer consultant
Andrea Sella, Lecturer, UCL Chemistry
Andrea Sella, UCL Chemistry, Lecturer
How did the collaboration come about?
The project arose out of the realisation in the spring that our first year students might have no way of doing practicals should the pandemic to get worse in the autumn. The horror of that triggered an intense depressive crisis for one of our academics which lasted until he started to connect the idea of kitchen chemistry with primary school outreach activities and some instruments he’d bought on eBay. Out of this came three weeks of intense testing at home together with many conversations with friends and colleagues, which crystallised the idea. When the idea was accepted at a departmental meeting, a team was gathered from within the department and Lea Valley Youth Cycling Club to develop, test and assemble the project.
What has been the most rewarding part of this project?
The fact that the project ran at all. We were able to make it work in the first year, to have it renewed this year, and to see the photographs submitted by students – such as family portraits, cunning improvisation, and participation by siblings and pets – is wonderful. One mature student reported that she did the entire project with her young children and they all learned together.
Why is chemistry important?
Chemistry is the science that provides the tools that underpin everything in our everyday world. Chemistry has invaded every corner of the bio, physical and the geographical and earth sciences - all of which use chemical tools to understand and analyse our tools. If chemists are sometimes annoyed that major international prizes go to scientists who are not ‘chemists’, it’s precisely because chemistry has become so central and important. So, if chemistry didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it.
What inspires or motivates your team?
The delight of playing with and learning from each other and from our students. And then there’s the sheer joy of seeing students grow in confidence and understanding.
Who have the resources benefitted, and in what ways?
The boxes have benefited students who gained an unusual apprenticeship in measurement, experimentation, and improvisation. But the boxes have also benefited our department because they have helped us to think outside the box, so to speak, and consider new ways of doing and assessing practicals.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
On a narrow level I would advise them to study as much maths as they can as it is not only ‘useful’ when learning the subject, but it also trains you in abstract thought. But I would also urge you cast your net wide – read many books, listen to lots of music, look at art of all kinds, follow the news, and get involved in politics. Chemistry is so deeply embedded in society that we need people who understand chemistry not just as collections of atoms and molecules, but also about the impacts that chemistry has on us and the way in which we can use chemistry to change the world for the better. And don’t forget to be kind.
Helena Wong, UCL Chemistry, Lab Technician
What different strengths did people bring to the project?
Each person brought their own personality and skills to this. The academics and our external volunteer consultant brought creative content, ideas for activities and helped to develop the practical script and website. The students were key in trialling and critiquing the proposed activities over the summer to test the viability of each task. Technical support brought organisational skills and helped to co-ordinate the project. They supported with procurement and attention to detail and had the ability to pre-empt potential problems.
Hannah is the bridge between a technician and the students. She saw issues through a student’s eyes which helped me appreciate how students will be receptive to the Lab_14 kit. We gave her a kit-box for lockdown to use and engage her younger brothers.
What were the biggest challenges?
The logistics were difficult. Procuring the huge quantity of unusual equipment required within budget and timescale was challenging, plus we were initially limited to college suppliers. What did not help is the unknown number of students to procure for. The decision to alter A-level exam results in the wake of the COVID challenges that increased the intake by almost double the numbers was a challenge i.e., going from 250 to 400 kits in late August. Different custom requirements for each country required detailed tracking of different box contents. Uncertainty, then, was the biggest challenge.
What is the importance of making chemical sciences more accessible and/or engaging to both students and the public?
It’s massively important as it's an opportunity to engage students on how chemical science is involved in everyday activities, in turn, engaging their close family and friends to consider a future in chemical sciences. Making them aware of the potential of science to find solutions to the world problems in turn igniting their latent interest in scientific thinking. For those who choose not to have a career in science they can lobby change in policies that will help solve the global issues we face today through engagement with science. The pandemic in many ways have engaged the public in the power of science.