Asee peer logo

Results & Lessons Learned from a Chemical Engineering Freshman Design Laboratory

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Introductory Experiences in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1337.1 - 26.1337.25



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Anthony Edward Butterfield University of Utah

visit author page

Anthony Butterfield is an Assistant Professor (Lecturing) in the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Utah. He received his B. S. and Ph. D. from the University of Utah and a M. S. from the University of California, San Diego. His teaching responsibilities include the senior unit operations laboratory and freshman design laboratory. His research interests focus on undergraduate education, targeted drug delivery, photobioreactor design, and instrumentation.

visit author page


Kyle Joe Branch University of Utah

visit author page

Kyle Branch is a second-year graduate student at the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering. He has helped develop and teach the described freshman laboratory course. His main research interest is in engineering education, focusing on the creation and analysis of interactive simulations for undergraduate chemical engineering courses.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Results & Lessons Learned from a Chemical Engineering Freshman Design LaboratoryA survey of United States chemical engineering curricula shows that a relatively small number ofdepartments offer their first-year students a laboratory experience focused on core chemicalengineering concepts using hands-on design projects. Furthermore, the first-year chemistry andphysics laboratories taken by engineering students do not typically ask them to exercise the typeof creativity that attracted students to engineering in the first place.In order to bring more active, collaborative, and hands-on learning into our curriculum, wecreated a freshman chemical engineering design course and laboratory. This course is situated inthe second semester of our curriculum, after a more traditional lecture-based introduction tochemical engineering course, which we have used as a benchmark for our results.In the design laboratory, individual freshmen first use interactive browser-based simulations tofamiliarize themselves with the relevant theory and data analysis. They are then put into teams,which are given design goals and access to a wide variety of inexpensive materials and tools.Such design goals include, for example, building a process to automatically create homogenousalginate beads for drug deliver, or building a photobioreactor to grow algae effectively. Studentsthen validate their designs and compare their data to that predicted by theory. Students aretrained on the use of Arduino microcontrollers and Matlab to enable them to collect data from avariety of sensors. The course also includes a collaborative assignment on our seniors’ finalproject, for which our freshmen create resumes and apply. The semester is then capped with aproposal and final project of their own design.We have collected three semesters of results from student surveys, pre- and post-tests, anddetailed usage data from online simulations. The data indicate the pedagogy used in this coursehas been greatly successfully on multiple fronts. Students report remarkably high levels ofsatisfaction when compared to control surveys from more traditional lecture-based courses. Theyindicate that the collaborative methods used have helped them make social connections withinthe department. Student learning has been demonstrably improved and their skill sets havebroadened. The prototyping, teamwork, communication, and data-analysis skills that studentshave gained early in the curriculum have also greatly increased the value of our freshmen tofaculty research programs and others who hire our students as interns.

Butterfield, A. E., & Branch, K. J. (2015, June), Results & Lessons Learned from a Chemical Engineering Freshman Design Laboratory Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24674

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015