The Chemistry Teaching Laboratory (CTL), opened in 2018, is home to a dedicated undergraduate analytical suite that contains equipment which cost the Department of Chemistry almost £2M, but should have cost significantly more. This was made possible by generous contributions from Shimadzu, Advion, GPE/Nanalysis and Bruker, amongst others, as well as philanthropic donations generously provided by Oxford Chemistry alumni. In addition to a multinuclear NMR spectrometer, there are three gas chromatographs, HPLC and GPC systems, TLC and ASAP MS, ICP/MS, Flame AA, benchtop NMRs and EPR, DSC, a range of X-ray diffractometers and of course the usual array of FT-IR, UV-Vis, Raman and Fluorescence spectrometers.
Director of the Teaching Laboratory Dr Malcolm Stewart led discussions with leading scientific equipment manufacturers. He said: “Modern practical chemistry teaching is extremely reliant upon the ability to convince undergraduates that they have actually made the product they are trying to synthesise or have the equipment needed to determine physical properties. However, instrumentation is required, and needs to be maintained, which makes this an expensive operation. Many universities use second-hand equipment, handed down from the research labs, or use service machines within the department that are used for research. Whilst this approach does the job, it means the curriculum taught is limited to what areas of research have instrumentation suitable for undergraduate use.
In the CTL, a very different approach was taken. By designing the curriculum first and then working out what equipment could be afforded to service the most experiments, the undergraduates would be best served. This led the CTL team to work with companies to see how we could both benefit.“
How do the instrument manufacturers benefit from this approach? The senior Sales Director at Shimadzu UK said: “Shimadzu UK are delighted to be working closely with Dr Malcolm Stewart and the Chemistry Teaching Laboratory at the University of Oxford. In 1875 Shimadzu started to manufacture educational instruments for science and since then Shimadzu has always maintained a strong focus to support education following our ethos of “Excellence in Science”. Through our relationship with the University of Oxford, Shimadzu can apply almost 150 years of analytical instrument experience to the teaching methods and experiments designed by the excellent staff within the Chemistry Department at the University creating an industry-leading learning experience for students, helping them excel as they reach their potential."
The CTL has also worked with Advion to develop novel uses of their ASAP probe and TLC-MS systems and, in return for the significant reduction in the purchase price, a C&EN paper was written to promote novel experiments developed in the CTL and at least one research paper in the Journal of Chemical Education will be coming soon. This machine has also been utilised by Professor Claire Vallance in her research, allowing preliminary data for a new project to be collected; the CTL is helping the Department develop new areas of research thanks to the generosity of this company.
GPE Scientific/Nanalysis were keen to get into the outreach arena, so donated a proton benchtop NMR spectrometer to be used exclusively for outreach sessions, getting their name into the wider community in return for the CTL being able to purchase six other machines. Bruker have also provided the CTL with a benchtop NMR machine, as well as an EPR spectrometer, at a significantly reduced price, to develop new analytical practicals in conjunction with Professor Christiane Timmel’s research group. These experiments will be written up to accompany all future instruments sold to teaching labs, helping to encourage other institutions to purchase these machines.
Other companies have also provided valuable support and the CTL now has probably the best equipped analytical suite in the UK, if not the world, that is primarily for undergraduate use.