New ChemE Laboratory Embraces Modernity

By Kat J. McAlpine

With finals just around the corner, the new chemical engineering laboratory has enjoyed a productive semester following its unveiling earlier this fall.

The new laboratory, located in the United Technologies Engineering Building, supplements the traditional chemical engineering laboratory located in the Engineering II Building and boasts at least a dozen new experiment stations for chemical engineering students.

The laboratory was funded by almost $250,000 in support from Engineering Dean Mun Y. Choi, alumni, faculty and the Chemical, Materials & Biomolecular Engineering Department. The investment has brought the chemical engineering laboratory program up to today’s technological standards and includes a computer lab that will be available to chemical engineering seniors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Laboratory director and chemical engineering Assistant Department Head Dr. Daniel Burkey explained how the addition of a second laboratory space has allowed for a broader variety of areas in chemical engineering to be represented in student laboratory work.

“While the traditional laboratory contains the staples of laboratory work in chemical engineering, the newly opened lab is more agile and modern, geared toward reflecting today’s most influential interests in chemical engineering,” Burkey said.

Burkey is assisted in running the two laboratories by chemical engineering Ph.D. student Dan Anastasio, who aspires to be a professor of chemical engineering.

“The principal laboratory is very dedicated to traditional chemical engineering; we wanted the new laboratory to represent more modern chemical engineering,” Anastasio said. “Now we have a greater variety of experiments.”

Burkey said the new lab is particularly special because it is designed to be modular, enabling the laboratory to house experiments that reflect the interests of industry and UConn faculty and are consistently up-to-date with contemporary research.

“We want to get people excited about chemical engineering,” Burkey said.

The benefit of bringing industry partners into the student laboratories is what Burkey calls an “extended interview process.”  Companies will be able to interact with students while they are in the process of developing as engineers, and students will emerge better prepared for the job positions companies are looking to fill.

“It is in the best interests of companies for students to be prepared for potential employment through hands-on learning processes,” Burkey said.

That same principle is also why the new laboratory will soon be opening its doors to juniors. While laboratory coursework has previously been required only of seniors, the additional laboratory space will allow students to benefit from an additional year of lab work. Juniors will be integrated into the chemical engineering laboratory coursework starting the fall 2012 semester.

Burkey believes experiential learning is the best way for knowledge to be retained by students. “The way for students to learn is to do hands-on work simultaneously alongside lecture coursework,” Burkey said.

To learn more about the chemical engineering laboratory, or to make a contribution to the lab, please visit the dedicated site here.

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