Imperial College London

New safety measures and technology allow Materials students to return to labs

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An image of Undergraduate students in the lab

The Department of Materials has started welcoming back small groups of Undergraduate students to undertake essential practical work.

Present government guidelines permit students to return to campus for essential practical work and for students who were already in London, special concession was granted to allow early access to the practical labs to gain these essential skills. 

Collaborative learning beyond the labs

The department has worked extensively to plan the safe reopening of undergraduate teaching laboratories. Laboratories have been refitted with plastic screens to comply with current safety measures, and students have access to new tablet devices at each laboratory bench. 

Using the newly installed tablet devices, lab partners and Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) can now interact virtually through MS Teams. The remote and in-person linkup allows remote students to focus on literature research while their in-person partner carries out measurements. Remote students can also complete calculations and feed that information back to the in-person student.

Last week, first-year undergraduates in the laboratory collaborated virtually with their peers to discuss metallography and titration practical exercises. Their experiments included learning how to cast metal; using optical microscopes to look at microstructures; how to mount, grind, polish and etch metal specimens and how to produce gold nanoparticles and measure the amount of gold that had not reacted.

Teaching Fellows, Lab Technicians and Graduate Teaching Assistants are currently present in the labs to oversee operations, ensure student safety and aid their learning.

Professor Peter Haynes, Head of the Department, said, "I have been delighted to meet some of our first-year undergraduates in labs on Thursday recently, and impressed to see them working collaboratively with remote partners via Teams. I’d like to thank our fantastic team of teaching fellows, who have worked incredibly hard to enable these sessions to be so effective."

  • A student doing a titration in the Chemistry Lab with a remote partner connected via Teams on the tablet provided.

    A student doing a titration in the Chemistry Lab with a remote partner connected via Teams on the tablet provided.

  • Students conducting casting of metal.

    Students conducting casting of metal.

  • Remote students join their in-person lab partners via teams.

    Remote students join their in-person lab partners via teams.

  • Students using optical microscopes in the lab.

    Students using optical microscopes in the lab.

  • Students grinding and polishing with safety screens.

    Students grinding and polishing with safety screens.



Student experience

An image of Antonia FetzerFirst-Year Undergraduate Antonia Fetzer was one of the first students to enter the newly redesigned labs.

She said, "The effort and organization that went into setting these labs up were immense, and it paid off. It was great to use what we have learnt since last October and to see things such as grain structures on actual samples.

From grinding, polishing, and etching to casting, the metallography lab packed a bunch of new skills into a few hours, and it was great to experience the more hands-on aspect of the course. The discussions with lab partners and GTAs helped bridge the gap between what we saw through the microscope and what we had learnt in our lectures."

First-year student Suleyman Bihi also took part in the laboratory classes last week.

He said, "Being back in the Royal School of Mines and doing a titration lab was great. Seeing, conversing and collaborating with my course mates as well made the experience wholesome and enjoyable. It shows what we have missed this year, but I look forward to what the future holds."

A new approach to teaching

The lab redesign was led by Principal Teaching Fellow Dr Paul Franklyn and Senior Teaching Fellow Dr Priya Saravanapavan.

Dr Paul Franklyn

Dr Paul Franklyn said "The teaching fellows chose their roles for the opportunity to innovate and make a difference in teaching.

This experience, although intense and a lot of ongoing work, has been a wonderful chance to see how students can engage in a learning task and develop a love of a subject."


Dr Priya Saravanapavan

Dr Priya Saravanapavan said "The task of setting up multi-mode teaching within a very short time was quite challenging; however, everyone pulled together to make this work for the summer term.

This task has helped us learn how we can incorporate technology in the labs, which will help improve our Outreach and Summer School activities in the future."

Reporter

Kayleigh Brewer

Kayleigh Brewer
Department of Materials

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