Andrew P. Dicks

Professor, Teaching Stream
LM 151 - Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories, 80 St. George Street, Toronto, ON, M5S 3H6


Areas of Interest

My research interests are broadly within the area of chemistry education, and more specifically in aspects of laboratory instruction, teaching green chemistry and sustainability, classroom interactivity, problem-based and discovery-based learning approaches, team-teaching strategies, teaching assistant (TA) training, effective writing instruction, creating student learning communities, faculty mentorship models, and science humour/puzzles. More information and a list of publications is available at my ORCID page.

Many undergraduate and graduate students working under my supervision have designed and developed novel microscale and semi-microscale organic laboratory experiments. Recent years have seen movement away from expository macroscale synthetic procedures within the undergraduate organic laboratory. Smaller scale experiments are more cost effective, and afford benefits such as minimized waste disposal and reduced reaction times. Although exposing students to essential laboratory techniques and illustrating fundamental reactivity, some traditional experiments fail to spark an interest in organic chemistry, so one aim has been to construct small-scale synthetic procedures where the isolated product has an everyday relevance. The newly-designed experiments typically have the following features:

  • they are demonstrative of appropriate classroom material (e.g. basic organic reactions, mechanisms and spectroscopy) and laboratory techniques such as vacuum/gravity filtration, reflux, recrystallization etc.
  • they involve the synthesis of a "real-world" compound: one that has a well-defined use in society (e.g. a sunscreen), or some other interesting properties
  • they involve cheap, readily available, safe starting materials and fundamental laboratory apparatus
  • they generate a readily-characterized product at a semi-microscale (~500 mg) or microscale (~100 mg) level

By adopting this approach, and through incorporating aspects of collaborative and discovery-based learning, it has been possible to make the University of Toronto undergraduate organic laboratory experience a fascinating and stimulating one. Particular recent interest has focused on aspects of green chemistry instruction, through designing reactions that proceed in water/under solvent-free conditions, or in an energy-efficient manner.