AP Chemistry takes on exciting new lab

AP Chemistry teacher Kristopher King is currently working with his students to explore how chemists can use precise math and data, along with a handy bunsen burner, in order to identify an unknown substance.

“We were given an unknown compound and we were told to dilute it and then filter it and figure out what the unknown compound was,” said Maya Lindvall, AP Chemistry student.

Throughout the lab, the students must be very precise with setting up their materials before the hard work begins. In a class with as few as eight students, all chemists are diligent with their work, making sure they get all data down to the ten-thousandths.  

“We had to weigh a lot more than we usually do and wait for things to dry up, so it took three days rather than two, but it wasn’t a more difficult lab,” Lindvall said.

Students began by making sure all water evaporated from a measuring cup, ensuring they didn’t risk compromising their data by adding weight from water. Next, they let the cup cool before beginning the lab, weighing everything they use.

King always maintains a safe learning environment by taking all necessary safety precautions seriously.

“In this lab, we have a couple of compounds that are irritants,” King said. “We’ll make sure to wear goggles throughout the lab and make sure [that] we wash up real well before we’re done.”

A few minutes into the lab, students started to notice a change in the substances they had measured in their beakers.

“They’re going to create what we call a precipitation reaction where they mix two liquids together and form a solid,” King said. “Then, they’re going to be able to make some measurements and do some math and stoichiometry to figure out that unknown metal.”

…it took three days rather than two, but it wasn’t a more difficult lab.

— Maya Lindvall, senior

The students began with two liquids and an unknown powdered substance, and concluded their lab with a separated solid. A cloudy white reaction was formed when combining the calcium chloride and water.

A group of students found some difficulty when trying to achieve the desired reaction, and another group burned a hole through one of their materials.

“We forgot to weigh our materials before putting the sample in it, so we didn’t weigh our filtration paper and had to find another one and weigh it after,” Lindvall said. “I think my group’s major downfall was that we didn’t read [the directions] all the way through. We were going as we read.”

Despite the challenges, students appreciate the rigorous class.

“Even if none of us know what’s going on, there’s a small group we’re all working with together to figure chemistry out,” Lindvall said.

AP Chemistry is a college-like course. The material being retained is complex and it requires a lot of patience. The regular Chemistry course differs from AP Chemistry because it contains more guidance in its labs.

“The regular Chemistry labs are really step-by-step,” King said. “We sometimes call them cookbook labs, it’s like following a recipe and we get an outcome.”

The lab is guided by an initial problem and a few tests are done in order for comparison between the initial and final results.

“There is more inquiry-based thinking in that whereas we’re not doing as much of that in regular Chemistry,” King said.

Both King and his scholars can agree that while the lab came with its difficulties, it defines the intensity of what the class has to offer while maintaining an effective learning environment.