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100 Level Courses & Introductory/ First Year Tutorials

NS 195         

Dula Amarasiriwardena

This course will explore environmental pollution problems covering four major areas:  the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and energy issues.  Several controversial topics, including acid rain, automobile emission, ozone layer depletion, mercury, lead and cadmium poisoning, pesticides, solid waste disposal, and problems of noise and thermal pollution, will be addressed.  We will emphasize some of the environmental issues affecting our immediate community, as well as those in Third World nations.  We will also do several project-based labs, gain understanding of scientific methodology, and learn how to write scientific research reports. 

Students are expected to engage in scientific inquiry and to view their investigations in broader context, gain a clear sense of the scientific process, and develop quantitative, oral and written communication skills.  Class participation, satisfactory work on the required problem sets, literature critiques, and class projects are required for evaluation.  Class will meet for one hour and twenty minutes twice a week and one afternoon per week for lab or field trips.  Enrollment limit is 15.  This course is designated as a first year tutorial course.

Student active science pedagogy:

Group Projects Research Projects, Problem Based Learning, Primary Literature and Writing (including free writing on an environmental issue topic, and writing project reports).

Some examples of class projects:

Usually these are multiple week project labs which encourage cooperative learning and team effort and foster appreciation of the rewards of learning environmental science/chemistry in context.  Most of these projects have a field and laboratory component.  Students work in small teams and the instructor serves as both a consultant and a partner.  Field investigation skills, sample collection, laboratory environmental chemical analysis, and data analysis skills are emphasized.  Students are expected to write a manuscript-style project report and present their findings orally to the class.

A sample of students' projects either based on authentic discovery projects or projects stemming from primary literature analysis:

  • Investigation of acid mine drainage effects in a local mine site ¨Davis Mine, Rowe, MA

  • Study of water quality in Quabbin Reservoir watershed

  • Analysis of trace minerals in bottled water and local tap water

  • Determination of trace elements and phosphates, nitrates/nitrites in various stages of waste water treatment

  • Water quality study in Mill River, North Amherst, MA
  • Soil lead and arsenic content in a local apple orchard previously sprayed with lead arsenate pesticide

A sample of students' projects either based on authentic discovery projects or projects stem from primary literature analysis:

  • The effect of cattle feedlot proximity and weather on concentration of nitrogen (as nitrate) in a nearby stream

  • Characterization of compost using diffuse reflectance infrared spectroscopy

  • Preliminary analysis of leachate at the Montague (Massachusetts) Municipal Landfill, Massachusetts for pH, conductivity, temperature, coliform bacteria and trace contaminants as indicators of water quality

  • Testing downtown Manhattan for radon

  • Lead concentrations in three soil core samples

  • The effects of dioxin from bleached paper mill wastes on fish The effects of acid rain on the Taj Mahal

  • Agroforestry as a solution to Sahelian desertification

  • The Middle Eastern water crisis: Sources, problems and policy options

  • The effects of "Desert Storm's" oil fires and oil spills on the Persian Gulf

  • Environmental impacts of [the uranium mining and milling industry] is this one industry or two? If two should read impacts of uranium mining and the milling industry on on the San Juan Basin region

  • A comparison of the effects of power plants among fish, shellfish, aquatic life and their eco-systems

  • Pollution in the Rhine river

  • The Minamata pollution clean-up project: artificial and natural remediation work

  • Pollution, safety, and waste management in the photo processing industry

  • The environmental costs of the US military: Focusing on Westover Air Force Reserve Base, Chicopee, MA.

  • Innovations in water softening technology
  • Hold your breath: The danger of chemical warfare
  • Meltdown: Effects and ramification of nuclear wastes and contamination
  • A study of ozone and seasonal thinning of the ozone layer



In this course we will learn the fundamental chemical concepts of composition and stoichiometry, properties of matter, atomic structure, bonding and molecular structure, chemical reactions, and energy changes in chemical reactions.  Considerable time will be devoted to learning the use of the periodic table as a way of predicting the chemical properties of elements.  We will also emphasize application of those chemical principles to environmental, biological, industrial and day-to-day life situations.  No previous background in chemistry is necessary, but a working knowledge of algebra is essential both because students will be expected to develop skill in solving a variety of numerical problems and because it is essential for understanding some of the subject matter.

 In the laboratory, basic skills and techniques of qualitative and quantitative analysis, as well as use of novel chemical instrumentation, will be emphasized.  We will also do two project-based labs, learn to understand the scientific methodology, and learn how to write scientific research reports.

Class will meet for one hour and twenty minutes three times a week, and laboratory will meet one afternoon per week. Chemistry I is the first term of a two-term course in general chemistry. 

Student active science pedagogy:

Group Discovery Projects, Authentic Inquiry, Problem Based Learning, Writing Manuscript-Style Reports

Some examples of class projects:

Investigation of acid mine drainage chemistry in a local mine site ¨Davis Mine, Rowe, MA.  This multi-week project has a field and laboratory component.  Here students work in teams and laboratory tasks are rotated among team members each week.  This environmental chemistry project emphasizes field sampling and testing methods, sample preparation approaches, standard preparation skills, spectrochemical analytical methods (atomic absorption and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, uv-visible spectrometry) and data analysis skills.  We have been investigating the acid mine drainage (AMD) chemistry of streams associated with the Davis mine and the nearby watershed for the past eight to ten years as part of a regularly occurring project-based lab experiment in this chemistry class.  The resulting database allows students to compare their own data with what was collected previously.  Students are expected to write their own manuscript-style project report at the end of the investigation.  The project helps students to understand the concepts of chemistry (i.e., stoichiometry, chemical equilibrium, pH concepts, transition element chemistry and spectrochemical principles) discussed in the class in broader context and to bring their own interdisciplinary interests into the chemistry class.

Colors Back and Forth: Chemical equilibrium and color chemistry. This is a small group, guided inquiry project on LeChatelier's principle and spectrochemical changes.  A manuscript-style lab report is expected at the end of this activity.  This project also prepares students to explore a lab activity on chemical equilibria with middle school students in our annual Day in the Lab activity.  Preparing for this teaching activity and later guiding the middle school students through the lab and responding to their questions, helps students develop increased confidence in working with important concepts like chemical equilibrium.  Traditionally, students are excited about this project and volunteer to participate in the Day in the Lab activities.




This is a continuation of Chemistry I; the principles and concepts examined during the previous term will be further considered and applied to more sophisticated systems.  Topics will include chemical thermodynamics, nuclear chemistry, chemical equilibrium, acid-base equilibria and their applications, complex ion equilibria, solubility, oxidation-reduction reactions, electrochemistry, and reaction rates.  We will also emphasize application of these chemical principles to environmental, biological, industrial and day-to-day life situations.  Problem sets will be assigned throughout the semester.  The laboratory will consist of two project-based labs and some laboratory exercises.   Basic laboratory skills, chemical instrumentation techniques, and the use of computers in the chemistry laboratory will be emphasized.

     Class will meet for one hour and twenty minutes three times a week and one afternoon a week for lab.  Prerequisite:  successful completion of Chemistry I and its laboratory or permission of the instructor. 

Student active science pedagogy:

Group Discovery Projects, Authentic Inquiry, Problem Based Learning, Primary Literature, and Writing

Some examples of class projects:
 Indoor radon measurements in local community:  This community-based project coincides  with our in class discussion of nuclear chemistry and radioactivity. Again, this discovery project applies the important radiochemical principles discussed in the class to a "real world" issue.  Here, the radiochemistry of radon, the concept of half-life, nuclear decay principles, radiation effects, and gamma spectroscopy are explored.
The chemistry of New England snow, and
The effects of nitrogenous wastes on a local stream near a cattle farm

These two examples of class projects apply our in-class discussions of chemical equilibria, buffers and pH concepts, and acid rain chemistry to  "real world" investigations.  Students are highly encouraged to incorporate their interdisciplinary interests into the project.  Related primary literature on these topics is discussed in class and students are expected to include information from these sources in the introduction sections of their write-ups. We emphasize use of spreadsheet software for data and statistical analysis and graphing.  Students are expected to write a manuscript-style project report as their end-of-the-term paper. 



300 LEVEL COURSES Advanced Course

NS 359

Research in Nutrition and Pollution

A co-taught interdisciplinary advanced research course

With Alan Goodman (Professor of Biological Anthropology)

The focus of this research course is on understanding nutrition, pollution and related problems via the chemical analysis of calcified tissues: bone, dentine and especially enamel.  This research-based course emphasizes teamwork, assignments, critical analysis of primary literature and also writing as .  Tooth enamel calcifies during the prenatal period and the first decade of life and is then essentially inert.  Thus, enamel's chemical composition may reflect conditions during early development.  Because enamel and dentine grow somewhat like trees (they also have growth rings!), one may use them as a mirror facing back in time.  Our inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (LA)-ICP-MS are intensively used in this course.

The first part of this course is an introduction to analytical techniques,  examination of the development and chemistry of hard tissues and consideration of the problems of metal pollution and elemental nutrition in the past and present.  Some of the specific research questions we expect to address in this class include an evaluation of the degree to which LA elemental concentrations correlate with values obtained from solution chemistry, the relationship between elemental (zinc, iron, strontium etc.) nutrition and enamel and dentine elemental concentrations, and lead levels in prehistoric teeth and bone from Egypt, Mexico, and the US. 

The main purpose of this course is to involve students in research.  Thus, students almost immediately begin to work in small groups on projects such as those mentioned above.  Some students choose to continue their projects through the summer and next academic years as Division III projects or independent research projects.  This course is funded in part by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Student active science pedagogy: Advanced Research Course

Semester-long Interdisciplinary Research Projects, Writing and Oral Presentations



NS 366

Environmental Chemistry

Chemistry plays a vital role in understanding pollution problems and our environment. This course will explore several current environmental topics with strong components in chemistry. We will put special emphasis on environmental concerns in the hydrosphere, soils, and atmosphere. Topics will include the chemistry of natural waters, water pollution and wastewater treatment, toxic heavy metals and their complexation properties in soils, and inorganic and organic pollutants in the atmosphere. We will also put emphasis on learning environmental chemical analysis methods and instrumentation in environmental monitoring. These include inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) in trace metal analysis, infrared techniques in characterization of pollutants, and chromatographic methods for separation and identification of contaminants. We will also look at sampling and preservation methods, sample preparation, and elemental speciation techniques used in environmental sample analysis. This class is particularly recommended for Division II and III students with interests in environmental issues. Class will run in seminar format.

Student active science pedagogy:

Authentic Environmental Chemistry Research Projects, Field Research, Team Work, Environmental Chemical Analysis, Writing and Oral Presentations

Read: Teaching analytical atomic spectroscopy advances in an environmental chemistry class using a project-based laboratory approach: investigation of lead and arsenic distributions in a lead arsenate contaminated apple orchard, Dulasiri Amarasiriwardena, Anal Bioanal Chem (2007) 388:307–314




Analytical Chemistry:

The recent advances in analytical chemistry and instrumentation play a major role in many interdisciplinary sciences including environmental science, biology, agriculture, geology, and in many health science fields. This course will cover those advances in analytical atomic spectroscopy (atomic absorption spectroscopy, inductively coupled plasma-mass and atomic emission spectroscopy - ICP-MS, ICP-AES), analytical molecular spectroscopy (infrared, UV-visible), electrochemistry, and chromatographic and other separation techniques and associated instrumental methodologies. We will also look at sampling and preservation methods, sample preparation, elemental and speciation techniques used in environmental and biological sample analysis. We will complete two issue-oriented, project-based field/lab projects that will introduce the participants to hands-on experience in modern analytical instrumentation and development of novel analytical techniques to solve analytical problems encountered in diverse scientific fields. We will also read primary literature papers on current directions in analytical chemistry and the recent developments in instrumentation. Evaluation is based on class and laboratory participation, successful completion of lab and project reports, problem sets and the final project report and class presentation.

Student active science pedagogy:

Strong components in Analytical Method Developments, Team Work, Instrumental Analysis, Writing and Oral Presentations.