Up until the other day, I had forgotten how mysterious science can be. I was studying for an upcoming physical chemistry exam and I was reading up on "real gases" (as opposed to ideal gases... which is what we spend a lot of time studying). Maybe I lost the art because of the intense quarter I was having, but I was amazed when I stumbled on this video (skip to about 3:40).
The video is of water at it critical point,
a specific temperature and pressure (705 °F, 212.7 atm) at which the liquid and gas phases have the same density and the interface between them becomes non-distinguishable. Pretty insane right? In general chemistry you spend some time drawing phase diagrams, but it's not every day that you get to see what something looks like at its critical point. One of the experiments in physical chemistry lab does something similar to the video above, except using carbon dioxide (and without the crazy music). I bring it up because it was a sharp moment where my experience in lab really helped me understand course content. The concept of a critical point is clearly pretty abstract, and it really helps to see and use the concepts you learn in lecture.
If you're a science major there's no doubt that you'll spend a good amount of time in lab classes. They are an essential part of our science training and lab experiments help us connect lecture material to how it is practiced in science. After all, we're learning these things to put them to practice in our future professional life. While lab requirements vary depending on your major, there's a good chance that if you're studying Health Sciences, Biology, or Chemistry that you'll take the general biology and general chemistry lecture and lab sequences.
My first couple of years I thought of labs as a burden. They were just an extra 3-4 hours of time that I would spend in class (not to mention that they are generally worth just one credit). But, they really are essential to our education. They are the main way that we improve our writing skills as science majors. More importantly, lab is another place to develop critical thinking skills. After doing a lab it's common that you'll have to write a report about the lab, and that is where we develop our ability to analyze many factors of the experiment and use the concepts that we learn in lecture. Lab is also one of the best times to get to know professors well. It's time where you get 1:1 attention from a professor and it's a great opportunity to build a relationship with them, which is important if you want to get involved in research as an undergrad (also a very gratifying experience).
Have questions about lab classes at DePaul? Let me know, leave a comment!