8 Organic Chemistry Lab Experiments for the Higher Education Classroom

Ginelle Testa

As an organic chemistry instructor, you aim to educate students and keep them engaged. It’s not easy! This blog post seeks to help you devise ideas for lab experiments in your classroom that will demystify the difficult concepts in organic chemistry. 

We’ve gathered four in-person and four Labster virtual labs to help you teach.

In-Person and Virtual Labs

1. In-person lab: Extraction of Caffeine from Tea

Students use organic solvents to isolate caffeine, a familiar stimulant, from tea leaves. This hands-on activity not only demonstrates important laboratory techniques such as solvent extraction and drying but also connects the abstract concepts of chemistry to an everyday product, making the learning experience both relatable and practical.

2. Virtual lab: Aromatic Compound Nomenclature

Students will learn how to relate the concept of aromaticity to the rules of nomenclature while testing their understanding with a series of puzzle-like games. They’ll even participate in a scored competition against a mysterious chemist!

aromatic compound molecules.

3. In-person lab: Synthesis of Aspirin

This experiment demonstrates key organic chemistry skills such as reflux, recrystallization, and the use of catalysts while also introducing analytical techniques like melting point determination and infrared (IR) spectroscopy. By synthesizing a well-known pharmaceutical compound, students gain practical insights into chemical synthesis and product purification, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world application.

4. Virtual lab: Fractional Distillation

Students will learn how to turn a mix of toluene and cyclohexane into its pure components through fractional distillation. With the help of a virtual assistant, Dr. One, students will overcome the limitations of a simple distillation apparatus by adding a fractionating column.

fractional distillation devices.

5. In-person lab: Esterification Reaction to Synthesize Fragrances

Students will be introduced to the creation of esters from carboxylic acids and alcohols, a fundamental organic chemistry process. This experiment engages students by having them synthesize compounds that produce familiar fruity smells. The lab highlights techniques such as reflux and distillation while teaching about the practical applications of esters in everyday life, such as in perfumes and flavorings. 

6. Virtual lab: Substitution vs. Elimination Reactions

Students will extend their knowledge of nucleophilic substitution and elimination reactions and work with which reaction type will be dominant under different reaction conditions. Their main mission in this simulation will be to solve a series of challenges revolving around substitution and elimination reactions given by Dr. One, their virtual lab assistant.

substitution vs. elimination reaction quiz.

7. In-person lab: Fischer Esterification

Students will synthesize an ester from a carboxylic acid and an alcohol using an acid catalyst. This lab teaches key concepts and techniques such as reflux, distillation, and the use of catalysts in driving forward reactions. Through this experiment, students explore the dynamics of equilibrium and reaction kinetics in producing esters commonly used in various industrial applications like flavors, fragrances, and solvents.

8. Virtual lab: Ion Exchange Chromatography 

Students will learn about the function and principles of ion exchange chromatography and get hands-on experience by purifying a protein involved in Parkinson’s disease to help study the relation between the protein and the disease.

ion exchange chromatography.

Final Thoughts

We hope this guide to eight essential organic chemistry lab experiments has sparked your interest and provided valuable insights into integrating these activities into your educational curriculum. Which labs are you excited to use?

a man sitting in front of a computer monitor
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