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Austin Peay State University students ‘escape’ chemistry lab by finding the fictional copper thief

 

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Dr. Leslie Hiatt’s quantitative analysis chemistry students at Austin Peay State University (APSU) had a mystery to solve – identify the department’s copper thief.

One of the Austin Peay State University students examines a hidden message during the escape game. (APSU)

One of the Austin Peay State University students examines a hidden message during the escape game. (APSU)

But this mystery came with a tantalizing reward. If the students found the copper thief, they also “escaped” the class’s lab work.

This is the third time that Hiatt has used the “I Escaped Quant” escape game instead of a final exam. The students get four weeks to use the chemistry they’ve learned in class to work through an escape game-like puzzle.

“We have done this in two previous semesters, and it was a huge hit with the students,” Hiatt said. “Many were stressed, but their faces when they ‘escaped’ were awesome.”

This semester’s students worked for four weeks to get through the evidence (starting with three bottles of chocolate syrup) to find the culprit – the APSU Department of Chemistry chair, Dr. Lisa Sullivan. They accused her of the crime, and after she ’fessed up to stealing the copper, she presented them with “I Escaped Quant” stickers.

One of the Austin Peay State University students show off their "I Escaped Quant" stickers. (APSU)

One of the Austin Peay State University students show off their “I Escaped Quant” stickers. (APSU)

How the game works

Hiatt’s class presents the students with a fictional crime. This year, a thief is stealing copper from the labs by using chocolate syrup bottles to smuggle out the metal.

“The students worked all semester learning in lab about ways to analyze copper,” Hiatt said.

The students used their chemistry know-how to figure out the first piece of the puzzle – which chocolate bottle was contaminated by the copper crook. Once the students determined the correct bottle (using science!), Hiatt rewarded them with a key to the first of three suitcases of puzzles.

 


 

“Some chemistry, some clue games like UV lights, Scrabble pieces, locked boxes, etc.,” Hiatt said.

The first suitcase led the students to more lab work, and that led to more puzzle work, and so on.

“The game is entirely student-directed without getting advice or help from me,” Hiatt said. “They have the skills, so now they are just putting their skills to the test.”

Students examine one of the suitcases during the game. (APSU)

Students examine one of the suitcases during the game. (APSU)

Learning real-life lab skills with a game

Even though the escape game appears and IS fun, the students take away the real-life skills they need for their careers, Hiatt said.

 


 

“This is quantitative analysis, which is analytical chemistry, so these students are going into industry where they need these skills,” she said. “Normally, they do a lab, and they just check off a box and leave, and they’ve forgotten everything.

“But with this game, they’re focusing on the skills that they learned and can use later,” she added. “They show off their techniques, showcase what they learned and how they learned it. And it’s fun.”

The students found the copper crook -- Dr. Lisa Sullivan. (APSU)

The students found the copper crook — Dr. Lisa Sullivan. (APSU)

To learn more

For more about chemistry offerings at APSU, visit the Department of Chemistry webpage.


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