Teutolab Fun, Frolic and Chemistry

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By 2017-03-19

By Indeewara Thilakarathne

Although chemistry is not often associated with fun and frolic and the spirit of discovery, perhaps Teutolab at Bielefeld University in Germany has been able to change this perception with its highly motivating workshops. What is noteworthy is the practical approach and the spirit of self-discovery with which the experiments were guided by the team. In essence, it amounted to rediscovering chemistry and the infinite wonders that it offers for students.

It was early morning at the student's Laboratory at Musaeus College, Colombo. Students were busy with experiments at the three places under the supervision and the guidance of a team of experts from Bielefeld University in Germany. However, the principle difference between the usual laboratory work and the programme was the enthusiasm on the part of the students who took part.

More than anything else, it was obvious that the students thoroughly enjoyed the experiments while gaining knowledge and a kind of hands-on experience not only in conducting experiments, application of knowledge of chemistry but also by applying the experience in problem solving. The credit for making chemistry in general and apply it to solve issues of importance in day-to-day life in particular, goes to the German experts who demonstrated in no uncertain terms that chemistry can be made an extremely rich and fun-filled experience for the students.

Basically, three types of experiments were performed at three laboratories which were set up during the workshop. In the first laboratory the students tested levels of air pollution. Students learnt the old methods of testing as well as new methods and identified the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), while at another lab, students set up a water purification plant and at the third lab, students learnt about different kinds of plastic and compared and contrasted them. At the end of the experiments, the students learnt how to make other material out of plastic (up cycling of plastic) like armbands, material for cloths. Throughout the experiments, the students learnt, firstly, to identify, secondly to find alternatives (up cycling or down cycling) and lastly, they made alternative material out of plastic. The workshop concluded with the demonstration by the students of the experiments that they conducted during the workshop.

The demonstrations, among others things, demonstrated that the students were highly motivated by the experience. It was obvious that the workshop-leaders were able to make a lasting impression on the students, that chemistry will, never again, be a boring subject, instead, it would be a tool to discover a world full of wonders.

The concept of the Teutolab at Bielefeld University is to allow students to discover the wonders of chemistry through making experiments. Before visiting Musaeus College, Colombo, the German team of experts from the Bielefeld University conducted two successful workshops at Maliyadeva Girl's College and St. Patrick's college in Jaffna.

Discovering Chemistry at Teutolab

With the concept of allowing the students to discover the wonders of chemistry at an early age and to motivate them to take up careers in the field of chemistry in the future, the Teutolab at Bielefeld University has conducted a series of workshops in Sri Lanka.

Since it was opened to the public in February 2000, about 56.000 children, mainly from the surrounding region, have put on their lab coats and goggles to perform hands-on chemistry experiments under the supervision of university chemistry students and experienced science teachers. These activities were extended to the age groups of 12 to 16 and 17 to 19 in February, 2001 and December, 2002, respectively. Visitors are regularly thrilled and amazed by the enthusiastic concentration of children and adolescents at work in the Teutolab.

The aim of the Teutolab concept is to provide everyone, not just the scientifically gifted, with a participatory opportunity to apply scientific methods to problem solving. Each session commences with a quick motivational introduction. Here, the experts try to establish a foundation for future exposure to and critical discussion of scientific topics with the key message: "Science is for everyone, not just for experts!" The curriculum has several levels of abstraction, which correspond to the knowledge and abilities of the different age groups (now including those from 8 to 18). Each session focuses on an essential aspect of chemistry which is taught through a series of connected experiments. These concepts include topics in natural products, chemical production, and energy and the environment.

The introduction focuses on connecting the students' natural curiosity with age-appropriate observations from everyday life.

In the summer of 2001, the German government funded an evaluation of the Teutolab by an interdisciplinary team of scientists who confirmed the value of the motivating and learning concept offered by the Teutolab. The idea of motivating children and young people for the sciences does not only seem to be relevant in Europe, but also on other continents. In December 2007 a delegation from Egypt visited the Teutolab to gain insight into its working methods. The staff of the Teutolab of Bielefeld University was spontaneously invited to open a teutolab at the GUC.

At the EXPO 2010 in Shanghai (China), the Teutolab presented hands-on experiments as part of the Children's University Shanghai. The visit of these Teutolab activities delighted HRH Princess Maha Shakri Sirindhorn of Thailand so much that she invited a delegation to Bangkok in November 2012 to perform at the opening event of the First Children's University in Thailand.

Meanwhile there is a good exchange between the SWU Bangkok and the teutolab. In August 2013, 2014, 2015 Teutolab took part in the Beijing Science Festival in China. More than 1000 students per day were experimenting at the teutolab booth.

The Teutolab Chiemie workshops in Sri Lanka were sponsored by BASF in Sri Lanka and Bayer and it was organised by the Germany Embassy in Sri Lanka.

BASF has been active in Sri Lanka for more than 80 years. With 29 employees as of the end of 2016, BASF registered sales of approximately US dollars 20 million to customers in Sri Lanka in 2016, and now maintains a state-of-the-art concrete admixtures production plant and warehousing complex at Sapugaskande. BASF in Sri Lanka also contributes to the local community with initiatives that support relief and rehabilitation efforts.

BASF creates chemistry for a sustainable future. It combines economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility. The approximately 114,000 employees in the BASF Group work on contributing to the success of our customers in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world. The BASF portfolio is organised into five segments: Chemicals, Performance Products, Functional Materials and Solutions, Agricultural Solutions and Oil and Gas. BASF generated sales of about US Dollars billion in 2016.

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