New technology means new opportunity


Photographs courtesy of PerkinElmer

UIS chemistry students use Elements to enhance their laboratory experience.

Change may not always be easy, but sometimes it can be for the best. A new program called Elements has the scientific community gazing into the future possibilities.

Back in September, Layne Morsch, assistant professor of chemistry, met with PerkinElmer  developers to discuss how ChemDraw, an electronic molecule drawing program, was functioning. During that meeting, the director asked Morsch what he would like to see next in the way of usable technology in the classroom.

Morsch replied that he would like to see “some kind of electronic lab notebook that [was] designed for education.” As it turns out, Apple brought this idea up to PerkinElmer a few weeks prior.

With these different ideas and suggestions, PerkinElmer created the website-accessed program that goes by the name Elements.

Elements is a digital, cloud-based collaboration platform,” said Morsch. “It’s about sharing things with each other and working together.”

Students log into their Elements account and can create their own personal notebooks for each lab that they are working on. Within each notebook, students can arrange different sections to type in and areas to upload photos or documents. They can also share their notebook with their lab instructor, which allows for easy feedback and interaction.

This technology allows for individuals to share their work with others and keep it organized. Another positive aspect of Elements is that it isn’t just aimed at chemists. It can be used within almost any field that includes a lab and can also be used with many different age groups.

Elements has begun to gain more popularity and interest in the scientific community. At the ACS (American Chemical Society) national meeting held in Dallas, Texas, over spring break, many individuals stopped by the developers’ booth asking about the program.

According to Tanya Tan, a laboratory instructor at UIS, “Nowadays, many chemical, biological and pharmaceutical companies will only allow electronic version of lab notes. Learning to use an electronic lab notebook helps the transition from a student biologist or chemist to a professional biologist or chemist.”

One thing that individuals must remember is that this technology is new and different problems occasionally arise. There have been a few bumps in the road, but there is constant communication between Morsch and the developers at PerkinElmer, and the program has been improving each week. When there is a problem that needs to be fixed, the developers are informed and do their best to fix the problem in a timely manner.

Morsch hopes to see a few new additions to the program as time goes on, such as ways to graph, integrate videos and a way to get raw data from the different instruments found within the lab directly into the notebooks.

As of right now, Organic Chemistry II students have just started integrating the Elements notebook into their lab activities. It is also being tested in two research labs. The technology will be tested throughout upcoming semesters to help further the usability and capability of the emerging technology.