$10,000 Pittcon grant expands technology access in SMWC science labs

March 13th, 2012 | SMWC

Looking closely at the science labs at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC), you’ll see something very different from the labs of ten, five and even two years ago. Laptops, probes and sensors, all connected by wires and ports, hang out next to Bunsen burners and test tubes. Chemistry students, in gloves and goggles, analyze changing temperatures, not by staring at a thermometer, but by examining graphs that unravel on a computer screen in just a few seconds. “We want to expand the scope of this kind of experience,” said B.R. Ramachandran, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at SMWC. “Teaching science through just lectures is meaningless. For students to truly benefit from their education, there needs to be a strong research element.”


B.R. Ramachandran, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at SMWC, connects a sensor to a laptop to collect data on temperature changes in real time.

Now, with a new $10,000 Pittsburgh Conference (Pittcon) Memorial National College Grant, students at SMWC will explore science with the very same kind of technology you’d find in a lab at Exxon or on a desk at Eli Lilly. “We have always understood the value of providing hands-on experiences in the classroom,” said Dottie L. King, Ph.D., president of SMWC. “The integration of science and technology is critical in 21st century learning and we are grateful for the excellent opportunities provided by the award from Pittcon.”

Only 12 of the 59 proposals submitted received funding, including SMWC’s bid, pioneered by Ramachandran. “The Pittsburgh Conference and its supporting societies are very pleased to fund this proposal,” said Annette S. Wilson, Ph.D., the Pittcon grant committee chair. “A large number of students in the science laboratories will benefit from learning to apply the technology to real world scientific situations.”

The committee also hailed SMWC’s dedication to community outreach. With programs like Expanding Your Horizons, Earth Day and other conferences, the entire Wabash Valley can utilize the new equipment to embark on their own scientific adventures. “For example,” Ramachandran began, “during Earth Day we demonstrated photosynthesis to K-12 students. They watched the process unfold on a computer and loved it.” 


The Pittcon grant will help purchase more probes and sensors.

In the next few months SMWC will purchase the new equipment, including sensors and probes that can measure anything from light and sound to oxygen levels. Students will examine data graphed in real time on laptops, without having to stop their experiments to make adjustments. “The students will spend less time acquiring data and more time analyzing it,” Ramachandran said.

This expensive equipment is already used in Ramachandran’s chemistry classes, but the scope is limited. The Pittcon grant gives students in the biology, physics and environmental science labs access to this technology and more. Science majors are also encouraged to complete an extensive undergraduate research project, a vital element of the science program at SMWC. “In a real job, students won’t have cookbook-like experiments prepared for them,” Ramachandran explained. “Students need practice doing research without predetermined answers.”

Students will be able to harness this new equipment, available in fall 2012, to analyze data for these individual research projects. “A lab gives you preparation, but in research you really develop those necessary critical thinking skills,” Ramachandran said. “With this grant we can provide more access for the students in our labs.”

Ready to learn more? Visit SMWC’s Department of Sciences and Mathematics!

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