COVID is just a catalyst

Science educators have been grappling with the challenges of remote instruction long before the pandemic. The virus has simply lowered the activation barrier to implementation.  The chemistry education community has yet to adopt a remote alternative to time and resource intensive laboratory instruction, and the result of this nonconcurrence is the messiness, fear and uncertainty you witness today.

There are plenty of alternatives to face-to-face laboratory instruction: virtual laboratory simulations; videos of faculty performing experiments; kits where students can perform experiments at home.  These solutions may have worked adequately this past semester, given that those of us who had a week to transition to on-line formats were considered “fortunate”, but they are not long-term solutions.  The reason being: we don’t really know what problem we are trying to solve.

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Socially distant ugrad research?

If you happen to follow any PUI Chemistry professors on social media, you’ll know that one of the more depressing aspects of the pandemic has been its devastating effect on undergraduate research opportunities. Summer research programs have been canceled and – obviously – any projects started during the first half of the now-finished semester were squashed.

Or were they?

My research group – Bespoke Scientific Instrumentation Design (BSID) – is build around the premise that scientific instrumentation should be more broadly accessible. Typically, what we mean by accessible is open hardware and software designs that allow end-users to customize instrumentation to fit their research directives or to lower the price point of entry-level instrumentation to facilitate educational research opportunities. However, in these virus-stricken times, accessibility has taken on a new meaning.

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Making COVID stay away

Do a web search on 3D printing and COVID, and you’ll find endless examples of the 3D printing industry (both commercial and hobbyist) mobilizing to create personal protective equipment (PPE) in response to the severe shortages that many countries face. If you have any experience with 3D printing, helping out is as simple as downloading the design files (such as this one for face masks or this one for face shields), sending them to the printer, and waiting 3+ hours for the printer to do its job.(*)

Finished print of the US version of Prusa’s face shield.

So when Tim of Adirondack oral and maxillofacial surgery contacted Zak Robinson, my colleague over in the Physics department, and lamented his inability to secure PPE for his staff, Zak and I got to work. Both of us use 3D printing in our teaching and research activities at SUNY Brockport, and when the pandemic shut down the campus for the remainder of the semester, we each brought home our printers so we could carry on with our making.

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3DP Point group set

I’ve been working on a set of 3D printed molecules for studying point groups. The set below contains 12 molecules that represent some of the point groups commonly taught in undergraduate inorganic chemistry classes. The structures are made using Mathematica’s curated data sets and a few molecules pulled from other sources. I split the set into two series for printing, each taking about 3 h to print.