Free Metrohm Instruments for Education: Metrohm Nordic Finland
At the University of Helsinki Science Education Center, a unique project started 10 years ago: the ChemistryLab Gadolin. Here, groups of kindergartners and students of all ages whose schools don’t have the necessary equipment can get practical chemistry lessons to complement their curriculum. At the same time, the lab is used for research in science education. The Finnish branch of Metrohm Nordic donated a titrator and an ion chromatography unit to the lab, providing infrastructure for advanced experiments for highschool students.
Johannes Pernaa is a lecturer at the University of Helsinki and vice director of the ChemistryLab Gadolin project. When he talks about the project, you can feel his passion for it and his enthusiasm for chemistry education and the Gadolin lab in particular are contagious. «It’s very rewarding to support learning», he tells us. «It’s a way to contribute to the world in a positive way.»
The ChemistryLab Gadolin has four main goals. The first is to inspire children and young people to explore chemistry—as a science, rather than a university subject or a profession. «It’s difficult to make people enthusiastic about chemistry. One reason for this is that chemistry is dealt with on different levels—the macro level, the symbolic level, and the submicroscopic level—and it’s difficult to jump between these», explains Johannes. «Chemistry textbooks are mainly on the symbolic level, that is, structural formulas. They are written by trained chemists for whom it’s very easy to jump between the levels. It’s important to take into account how children see the world, and to make chemistry relevant to them.»
The second goal of the lab is to provide a development and research platform for new pedagogical solutions and innovations. Johannes emphasizes the importance of the project for chemistry education research in Finland: «Finland is a small country. Because of that, sample sizes in Finnish education studies are usually quite small. The ChemistryLab Gadolin has changed that. Last year, we had about 4000 visitors. So the Gadolin lab enables us to achieve big sample sizes now.»
The third goal is training of future and field teachers. Bachelor and master students from the University of Helsinki are trained as Gadolin supervisors and can thereby explore their own interest in teaching and gather first experiences in the field. Trainings for field teachers help them to continuously improve their chemistry classes based on the latest research.
Finally, the fourth goal of the ChemistryLab Gadolin is to act as a forum for cooperation for researchers and business experts, for example, on the national and international level.
Each visit at the Gadolin lab is planned so as to support the educational goals of the visiting group. The experiments are thus directly related to subject matter that the children and youths have previously studied in school or kindergarten. The Science Education Center also organizes science-themed clubs for preschoolers, summer camps, and even birthday parties. All these activities are about making science fun and relevant for children.
The ChemistryLab Gadolin isn’t the only one of its kind anymore: it has been an example for other institutions. For example, there is now a small sister lab at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. Unlike the Helsinki lab, however, it doesn’t have any industry sponsors yet. The ChemistryLab Gadolin in Helsinki is supported by the Department of Chemistry of the University of Helsinki, but also a number of industrial sponsors like Metrohm Nordic, who contribute by direct funding or by sponsoring instruments, chemicals, or other materials.