Citizen Scientists: Summer Course Takes Hands-On Approach to Environmental Issues

Environmental chemistry students partake in frequent experiments to help complex subjects gel
October 10th, 2018 by 

Associate Professor Amber Hupp facilitates one of many hands-on experiments that make environmental chemistry accessible to her students.
Associate Professor Amber Hupp facilitates one of many hands-on experiments that make environmental chemistry accessible to her students. Photo by Tom Rettig

“It’s a Small World” might seem an odd soundtrack for a chemistry course, but the chirpy chorus begins every time students in Environmental Chemistry rig their tabletop wind turbines just right. First they connect a string of lights to the turbine, test the volts of energy and, finally, hook the turbine up to a small circuit board to see the energy they’ve created. With success comes a Disney tune.

It is one of many innovative experiments Amber Hupp, associate professor of chemistry, had students perform during a condensed-but-demanding version of the regular course. A half-dozen summer session courses offered this year, including Environmental Chemistry, gave students an opportunity to earn a few credits or fulfill an elective requirement.

Because Hupp knew many of her summer students would likely be non-chemistry majors, she designed the course to appeal to citizen scientists. “I framed the course around environmental topics and themes that are very timely and relevant,” she says. “We do just enough chemistry so that students can get an understanding of those environmental ideas at a bigger level.”

And even though the students tend to be non-science majors, the course is hardly all fun and games. Students delve into atomic structures, study how chemicals work with one another and conduct extensive experiments, while Hupp guides them through the challenging material.

The hands-on approach worked for Emily Devine ’21, a mathematics major: “After learning about the processes and environmental impact of plastics, gasoline and electricity, I am much more conscious of conserving energy and reusing everything that I can.”

It turns out there are advantages to teaching chemistry to those who don’t know an alloy from an alkali. The critical-thinking skillset from humanities majors can be just as valuable, Hupp says.

“I realize students are going to bring in their own disciplines and the way that they’ve been trained in those disciplines,” she notes. “If they’re an artist or an English major, they’re going to think about something in a different way. An important part of my job is to help them think like a scientist a little bit by the time they leave.”

Still, to play on students’ strengths, Hupp uses out-of-the-box assignments to help the scientific information gel. One favorite project requires students to create a children’s book based on a specific environmental topic; for this course, she had students write about ozone.

“Students have to think about the molecule ozone and how they would describe it to a child,” she says. “They have to describe that there are manmade chemicals that actually impact ozone and break it down — without being too sad and negative, because it is still a children’s book. They need to try and explain the science without being too high level, but also still get the facts across.”

Hupp took another inventive approach to engaging students using a history-based exercise called Reacting to the Past, which has them act out a notable scientific moment in history. In this case, students role-played as main participants in the 2009 United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference (e.g., Barack Obama and Angela Merkel).

“Students research an individual person, organization or stance,” Hupp says. “They come in and present, and it becomes a type of debate. Then, there’s an actual vote based on the arguments — not the real arguments from the conference, but what was actually presented in class. We break it down at the end and talk about what really happened at the conference and why.”

For Carson Harold ’19, an English major with a concentration in gender, sexuality and women’s studies, the Reacting to the Past exercise encouraged her to think of science on a much bigger scale: “I realized that once politics becomes involved, the needs, desires and power dynamics of other countries also play a large part. Things can become a lot more complex and difficult to resolve.”

One major advantage of a summer course is the small class size, Hupp says; there were only 11 students in the class this year. Another: the lack of distractions.

“I was worried that a six-week class would be too fast-paced,” says Brett Boddy ’19, an economics major with a minor in physics. “However, being able to focus on only one course and having a lot of time outside of class to collaborate with classmates made the pacing and format comfortable.”

Even with enticing summer activities calling, the students felt taking a summer course was highly beneficial. “Sure, there were days I’d rather be at the beach, but the experience was definitely worth it,” Devine adds. “I was able to learn a lot, work on finishing my common requirements and get to know some new people from school really well.”

Course Catalog

 Amber Hupp points at projection of her lesson

Chem 141: Environmental Chemistry

Professor: Amber Hupp

Department: Chemistry

Description: In this course, students explore the fundamental chemistry involved in local and global environmental issues. Students learn how anthropogenic activities, such as the burning and generation of products from fossil fuels, affect Earth’s air, land and water chemistry. The current and future viability of alternative energy sources, such as nuclear, wind and solar power, are discussed and compared to traditional coal- and oil-based power sources.

Meeting Times: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday | 8:30 a.m. –11:30 a.m.

Classroom: Swords 321

Required Reading

  • “Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World” by Nye (St Martins Griffon, 2016)
  • “Chemistry in Context: Applying Chemistry to Society” by Middlecamp et al (McGraw-Hill, 2014)
  • Additional readings throughout the semester

Assignments

  • Design, write and illustrate a children’s book about an environmental problem
  • Scientific literature discussion on emerging energy sources
  • Reacting to the Past (RTTP), a historical role-playing game in which students prepare a written and oral argument
  • Three exams

Grades:

Children’s book, exams, RTTP presentation and paper, literature discussion, class participation

About the Professor

Amber Hupp is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry. She earned her B.A. in chemistry from Kalamazoo College and her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Michigan State University. Hupp’s lab at Holy Cross uses gas chromatography (GC) and chemometric methods to characterize various plant and animal feedstocks that are used to generate biodiesel fuels. Her lab is active in the summer months and throughout the academic year. She recently published an article regarding efforts using ultrafast GC to analyze biodiesel fuels in the journal “Fuel.” Hupp teaches courses at all levels at the College and is teaching an introductory chemistry course called Atoms and Molecules and the associated discovery-based labs this fall.


Written by Jane Carlton for the Fall 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine

Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

| More

Comments are closed.

05/23/19 Could a National Service Program Be the Answer to a Divided Country? Holy Cross History Professor Opines
05/22/19 Bubble Tea and Constructing Asian American Identity: A Conversation with Fenwick Scholar Mia Yee ’19
05/21/19 Eight Holy Cross Students, Recent Alumni Receive Distinguished Scholarships
05/17/19 ‘I Could Not See Myself Anywhere Else,’ Says Holy Cross Graduating Senior From Ghana
See All

ENNEAD: Works from the 2019 Visual Arts Concentration Seminar
5/24/2019
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery will show artwork by graduating...
See More >>


Annual ITS Security Training (Event canceled)
5/29/2019
Information Security
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 519
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Annual ITS Security Training (Event canceled)
6/7/2019
Information Security
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 519
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Annual ITS Security Training
6/11/2019
Information Security
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 519
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Training
8/28/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Training
8/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Training
8/30/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
9/4/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/9/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
9/10/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
9/11/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/16/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
9/17/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
9/18/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/23/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


GE Meet & Greet Session
9/23/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406
Students selected to interview with GE will be invited to attend this...
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
9/24/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
9/25/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(07)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Festival of the Arts at Holy Cross
9/27/2019
Music
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Outdoor Oval
Open to the Public
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
9/30/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
10/1/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/2/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
10/2/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/7/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
10/8/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/9/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
10/9/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/16/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
10/16/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/21/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
10/22/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/23/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
10/23/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/28/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
10/29/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
10/30/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
10/30/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Poverty Simulation Workshop
10/30/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & Dunn
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/4/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
11/5/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/6/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
11/6/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/11/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
11/12/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 407(08)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/13/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
11/13/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Into the Deep: My Journey from Feminism to Catholicism
11/14/2019
Featured
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite A - 4th Fl
Professor Abigail Favale, Director of the William Penn...
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/18/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 320
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
11/19/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 409
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Latinidad Identidad
11/20/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
11/20/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
12/3/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 409
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


RHA Weekly Meeting
12/4/2019
Residence Life & Housing
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(08)
RHA weekly meeting in which all hall councils are invited to share...
See More >>


Holy Cross Concert Band Concert
12/8/2019
Music
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Ballroom & 328
Open to the Public
See More >>


Eta Sigma Phi Weekly Meeting
12/10/2019
Classics
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 409
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>

See All