Minimum Class Performance
As with any other laboratory course, it is imperative that the
student prepares for each experiment beforehand. I can promise
that the amount of time and effort spent on preparation shall
reflect on the student's work and, ultimately, my evaluation of
the student's performance. The student is to read not only the
instructions but also comprehend all the procedures and concepts
prior to coming to the class. This is to be achieved by
requiring that the objectives and procedures for that experiment
be clearly stated in the student's bound, paged
notebook in his own words before coming to the class. The
student is encouraged to raise questions during the introductory
lecture if additional explanation or clarification of laboratory
procedures is required. Otherwise, the student is assumed to
understand the material thoroughly. Because various chemicals
and equipment can be potentially dangerous if not used correctly,
laboratory admission will not be granted to those who are unsure
of what needs to be carried out. Furthermore, because most of
the critical biochemicals and enzymes required in this course are
relatively expensive and unstable, only a minimal amount will be
provided to each student. Very likely, there will not be enough
supplies to repeat the experiment if it fails, nor will there be
sufficient time for the class is tightly scheduled.
Because this course is offered in a chemical engineering program,
analytical aspects of the experiment as well as the conceptual
aspect will be emphasized. The thorough analytical treatment of
the data will ensure that the engineering aspect will be
preserved, whereas the questions at the end of each experiment
are designed to enhance the conceptual understanding of the
underlying principles of the subject. The student must master
the laboratory techniques to yield good results. One must apply
the correct analytical methods to reduce the raw laboratory data
to a set of more meaningful parameters. Above all, one must
understand, not merely memorize, the guiding principles. In
summary, this course will not at all emphasize rote memorization,
but will encourage creativity in each student. If better
procedures can be found, let them be followed.
Use a bound (not the spiral type) laboratory notebook with
pages numbered consecutively at the upper corners. A
permanent-ink pen should be used in entering information in the
laboratory notebook; no pencils or water-soluble felt-tip pens
will be allowed. The student is forewarned that this rule will
be enforced by placing his notebooks under running water or by
wiping the surface with a wet sponge in class periodically and
unannounced. After this deliberate destructive procedure is
carried out, the student will be held responsible for the
permanent loss of data as a result of using pencils or
water-soluble ink; i.e., he may be assigned an "F" for the
experiment in which there is a significant loss of data, as if
the data were never taken.
In general the laboratory notebook should serve as the
quantitative aspect of the course. Procedures, instrumentation,
and data should be recorded in such a way that any person could
pick up the notebook and conduct the experiment with reproducible
results. The typewritten report, on the other hand, should
incorporate qualitative analysis as well as insightful
interpretations and observations of one's experimental results.
This is why one may sometimes find himself doing library research
in order to answer fully the questions in the handouts.
Remember, good lab techniques go hand in hand with the ability to
analyze data meaningfully -- they are equally important.
As mentioned previously, enter the experiment title, the
objective, and the procedure in your own words before coming to
the class. The notebook will be collected and graded
Title of the Experiment
This part is self explanatory, simply copy from the instruction
The objectives should be concise and explicitly stated, usually
in one sentence.
Write down the steps of the experiment. A graphical
representation of the steps outlined in the instruction manual
may greatly help the student visualize the experiment. Also note
the purpose of the step if it is not totally obvious. It is to
be emphasized that the student is not asked to copy the
laboratory manual, nor will a mere copying be accepted under any
circumstances, for it is universally considered as a form of
plagiarism, a serious academic offense punishable by an immediate
and automatic dismissal from this class and a possible expulsion
from the University of Maryland. The amount of information
entered in this section is considered adequate if one can perform
the experiment in class without referring back to the original
The very first entry on the day of the class should be the date.
All data taken in the laboratory must be entered directly in the
notebook. Data recorded on a loose sheet of paper will be
discarded whenever it is found. Once entered, data are never
erased from the notebook. Strike out erroneous entries with a
continuous, straight line. Also remember to record other
pertinent qualitative observations, as well. Convert all data
into physical units whenever possible. For example, the content
of a colored compound in a solution may be measured in absorbance
or transmittance units, but it is the absolute concentration units
such as g/l, mole/l, and weight percent that are desired.
Graphic results should be affixed permanently in the notebook.
In addition, calculations and data analysis needed to reduce the
raw data into meaningful results are carried out and recorded
directly in the notebook.
Format for the Laboratory Report
A typewritten report is to be submitted promptly a week after
each experiment. No handwritten reports or illegible photocopies
are accepted. The equations, figures, and tables must also be
professionally done. Number all pages of the report; number all
equations consecutively. There is absolutely no excuse for
misspelled words. Consult a dictionary if there is the slightest
doubt about spelling. It is straight forward to run the report
through a spelling check program if it is composed on a
computer. Furthermore, there is also no excuse for simple
grammatical errors such as subject-verb agreement, whether
English is one's native tongue or not. The report, as in other
aspects of one's work here at the University of Maryland, is
expected to be carried out to the best of one's ability.
Hurried, sloppy work will not be tolerated. The submitted work
should be the repeatedly revised version of the preliminary
draft. The regular use of a text editor or a word processor in
composing the report on a computer should make the process of
revision much less painful.
A major shortcoming in student report writing is that of being
too wordy. The goal of any report is to present to the reader
the necessary information so that he will understand what was
done, why it was done, how it was done, and what was learned, but
no more. To do this efficiently is difficult and requires
practice. Keep in mind that communication skills, both writing
and oral, are just as important as the technical contents; one
will not advance very far in his career if no one else is
informed of his great discoveries.
All written material must be the student's own work; use one's
own words, not someone else's, especially in describing the
background or literature survey. Plagiarism will not be
tolerated, not even for half a sentence. Plagiarism will be
dealt with according to University Regulations. Give proper
credit to other people's work if used.
The scope and length of each section are governed by the nature
of the subject material. Depending upon the purpose of the
report, some of the sections may be emphasized, combined, or even
deleted, while others may be added. Use subheadings to divide
the report into smaller logical units if necessary. In general,
the following format, somewhat complementing that of the
instruction manual, is suggested for the laboratory report.
The report shall simply start with the title and the objectives
of the experiment, followed by a summary of the results obtained.
Discuss the results in, of course, the
Finally, answer the questions to the best of one's ability.
- Title of the experiment. It may be copied from the instruction manual.
- Author's name and affiliation (i.e., our department/school).
- Date of submission of report.
- The course number (i.e., ENCH485 Biochemical Engineering).
Simply copy from one's notebook.
This should be a very brief and incisive summary that covers the following:
- Purpose of the investigation
- Underlying fundamental chemical and physical principles
- Method or principles used in the solution
- Quantitative/qualitative statement of the principal results
Materials and Methods
This section is required only for the individual project.
However, the student may include this section if the procedures
he followed differed significantly from those specified in the
- Usually, the construction of the equipment, the source of the
chemicals, etc. are described here, if the paper contains any
- Give a succinct description of the apparatus with the aid of
a neatly drawn diagram where appropriate. Avoid triviality.
Describe the methods of measurement and indicate their
reproducibility. List briefly each series of experiments run and
the reason for running it.
- Describe the procedure used. Present the essential
equations. This section is considered incomplete if another
person who is scientifically trained but is not at all familiar
with the student's investigation cannot reproduce exactly what he
Summarize the data and present any significant experimental
findings. Whenever possible, the results should be presented in
graphical or tabular forms because they are much easier to
comprehend and interpret. The graphs and tables should be
accompanied by a verbal description of the results that draws
attention to their most noteworthy characteristics. The data
should be in the reduced form (e.g. actual physical units rather
than voltage readings) in order to interpret them in the most
general terms. All of the results of the experiment or
theoretical calculation that are to be referred to in the
Discussion and Conclusions sections should be presented in
this section. The significance of the numbers, the general
trends, or the lack of them should be pointed out. Explain any
significant or unexpected deviations. Although there should be
no surprises in these experiments, the student must be trained to
make a careful note of any abnormalities habitually. This is
especially important in a research environment, for many great
discoveries have been made accidentally. (If the phenomenon is
normal and commonplace, someone else must have already observed
Interpret the experimental results in terms of physical and
chemical principles and the particular circumstances of the
experiment. Indicate the reliability of the reduced experimental
data and the sensitivities and uncertainties in the theories.
Compare the results with those expected on the basis of theory or
empirical correlations, and discuss any discrepancies. State any
assumptions explicitly and verify their validity rigorously.
Compare the results to what the student expects and to other
classmates' whenever possible. State how one's finding differ
from others, or how the result depend on the various assumptions.
Mention any nonstandard steps taken to calculate the results and
indicate one's confidence level in them. Interpret the results in
terms of the underlying physical and chemical principles. State
any assumptions explicitly and verify their validity
Discuss any alternatives that should be considered. Propose what
is to be done next. Since this is the first time that the course
is offered in a well organized manner, the student's constructive
comments on all aspects of the laboratory will be wholeheartedly
welcomed to improve this course for the next year. How can the
procedures be changed to achieve better and clearer results?
Should the objective be modified? What parts were interesting,
and what were boring? What was actually learned, or what did the
student wish he could have learned instead? Within the limits of
time, budget, availability of equipment, and overall course
description, what sort of experiments would the student really
like to perform? (Remember that this is a biochemical
engineering laboratory; there will not be experiments dealing
with bombs made from nitroglycerin.) Although a tentative
schedule has been made, by issuing constructive comments, the
student can greatly influence the type of experiment he and his
classmates will perform and enjoy in the coming weeks.
Briefly summarize the findings supported by the data and the
subsequent calculations of this experiment. Describe how the
phenomenon investigated depends upon the variables that have been
Answers to Questions
Attempt to answer all the questions to the best of one's ability
before coming to the laboratory class. Direct questions to the
instructor or the teaching assistant if help is needed. Hints
and pointers will be given liberally; however, the student should
not expect them to carry out his work. Note that the answers to
some of the questions result from the subsequent analysis of the
experimental data obtained in class. Therefore, it is emphasized
that the student work them out first as he is writing down the
procedures. The student should be fully aware of the additional
steps other than the ones explicitly stated in the procedure that
one must perform to obtain the required data in the laboratory.
Make a note of these hidden steps in the Procedures
section because successes in any experiment depend heavily on
careful planning. Otherwise, one may later find that he cannot
produce a satisfactory report because he has failed to perform
certain steps or neglected to record some essential data.
Tables and Figures
Tables and figures must have descriptive titles and must include
important details. All tables and figures must be referred to in
the text, otherwise there is no need for them in the report.
However, the contents of the tables and figures must be clear
without having to refer to the report's text. For a figure, for
example, a poor title is "Heat-Transfer Coefficient versus Flow
Rate. "A better title is "Effect of Water Flow Rate on Overall
Heat-Transfer Coefficient in Methanol Condenser at 1 Atm. "Use
words as well as letters for labelling axes. Thus, write
"Pressure" as well as "P", "Friction Factor" as well as
"F",etc. The units should be included in all figures and
tables. The same data should only be represented either as a
table or as a figure but not both.
One may follow the alphabetical format (sorted according to last
names) or numerical format (sorted according to the order of
citation in the main text). Use the same format consistently
throughout the entire report. See any standard journal articles
if the student is not familiar with the standard formats.
Those materials that do not quite fit in the main text should be
included in the
Appendices section. Each appendix should
be a stand alone unit.