La Chimie en Couleurs: Socially-Relevant and Original Research in Chemistry at High-Schools Using Modest Resources
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Teaching chemistry at high school level has the potential of playing a major role for the development of our society, in particular, to form future leaders in chemistry who will address social challenges such as the need for better healthcare, improved agricultural techniques and more efficient use of energy resources. In general, the high school’s chemistry teaching programs tend to illustrate the great historic discoveries and glorious past of chemical research. It is hoped that this historical perspective will help to provide students with the basic understanding necessary for the development of the chemistry of tomorrow. Unfortunately, in general, the emphasis on established chemical research and on the reassuringly solid-foundations of the field is ubiquitous not only in the theoretical classes, but also in more practical aspects of teach- ing, such as in student maturity work: these small, often laboratory-oriented research projects are often limited to reproducing the scientific literature often printed in black white- and/or adding minor modifications to estab- lished scientific protocols, instead of exploring the colourful world of current scientific discovery and the excitement of pushing back the boundaries of knowledge. Practicing innovative and original research with chemistry stu- dents is therefore a challenge for the mentor of any maturity work. Here, I describe the implementation of a practical program nicknamed La Chimie en Couleurs- for carrying out original research work in chemistry, making science live, colourful and vivid to students, i.e. not something that has already been done by others before, but something that one can pursue oneself and that is totally new and original. The program is taught during high-school courses and carried by students, using inexpensive equipment, easily-accessible, non- toxic chemicals and simple chemical concepts. Part of the research work was presented by students at the Swiss Chemical Society Annual Meeting and merited a Poster-Prize in the Inorganic Chemistry Runner-Up category. The La Chimie en Couleurs program presented here illustrates that up-to-date and socially-relevant chemistry (not just historically-relevant chemistry!) can be taught to teenagers in a creative way through the implementation of serious, albeit inexpensive, scientific research at highschool level.