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Lab Tips in Environmental Chemistry

Virtual Labs

Virtual labs bring different problems than you might encounter in a typical chemistry lab. We'll start with some general tips for virtual labs.

First, just like in a physical lab, we have to follow all the instructions. Many labs will help us out by highlighting the tool we'll need to click. By relying on this highlight option, however, it becomes easy to complete the lab without actually learning anything. Beware of this pitfall—or you'll pay for it come exam time.

A second challenge with virtual labs is that many have to be completed in one sitting. There might be no saving allowed. Avoid this by either completing the lab at home, or scheduling a block of time on the computer (preferably way more time than you think it will take) to complete the lab. Treat it as if it were the real deal, because it kind of is.

A third challenge associated with computer labs is the lack of paper. When a lab is completed on the computer, there is no hard copy of the data and diagrams. This is a problem if the lab material is going to show up on a test and we need it to study. One solution to this problem is to print or save any screenshots you think you will need to see again. If this isn't possible, pull out a pencil and paper and make a sketch.

Now that you know several of the biggest virtual lab pitfalls, it's time to get this party started. 90's allusions aside, let's go through some virtual labs together.

Virtual Urchins

The virtual urchin lab addresses the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the ocean. The overall idea is that as atmospheric concentrations of CO2 increase, oceanic pH decreases and sea urchins are left with ineffective, tiny T-rex arms.

The virtual urchin lab is one in which you cannot save your spot. If your power goes out, you have to start over. If you discover how to power an automobile using willpower and spit, and close your browser on the way to your Nobel Prize ceremony, you have to start over. If your genetically engineered pet squirrel chews a hole in your Ethernet cord, you have to start over. Well, you get the idea. The lab takes at least an hour, if you are completing questions along with it, so make sure you have an hour of catastrophe-free time so you don't have to start over. Last piece of advice for the virtual urchin is to print the graphs and data at the end. If you exit your browser without printing… you guessed it- you have to start over.

Virtual ghg's

You'll find a greenhouse gas virtual lab here. It serves as a good introduction to greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect. The two basic questions it answers are: 1) Which gases are greenhouse gases and 2) how do greenhouse gases affect earth's temperature?

Like a trekkie at a Star Wars convention, the greenhouse virtual lab won't save your spot. Fortunately, it doesn't matter for this lab because there is no spot to save. If you click on the photon absorption tab, you can test the ability of four different gases to absorb infrared photons. The greenhouse effect tab allows us to build an atmosphere and play around with the concentrations of greenhouse gases to see how it affects temperature.

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