The Role-Playing Laboratory

The chances are good to excellent that you have heard of "role-playing", but probably not in the context of a chemistry laboratory. What is role-playing?

First, role-playing is a new way to work in the lab. It stresses interdependence, as the core part of mature independence, and division of responsibilities, rather than division of labor, between those in the lab.

You have done "division of labor" when you did "partners". When you did this, you divided up the work, and were both or neither actually held responsible for what happened. Role-Playing is not "partners", since responsibilities are divided, and each person in the group is clearly responsible for the execution and outcome of certain responsibilities. It may be that different role-players do labor that is not in their list of responsibilities. We do, after all, help each other out in all manners of ways. But, no matter who actually does the work, or parts of the work, only one person will be responsible for the results. This is the difference between "Division of Responsibilities" and "Division of Labor".

Actually, role-playing is a "bridging" educational model for the sciences. It bridges the full scale, interdependence (individuals in a group retain their individuality, but agree to become mutually dependent in achieving a goal) that accompanies industrial work and "independent" research, and the "partners" approach that characterizes, of necessity, some of the beginning labs in the sciences.

As a bridge, it allows you to explore management roles, specialist roles, and small group communication dynamics, including how to reach a consensus without alienation. Role-playing allows exploration of research or development work situations, but without placing you in the high risk position that accompany these roles in the actual professional world. You cannot be laid off from the analytical lab!

Role-playing is an approach that Upper Management introduced in the analytical labs at St. Olaf. It is based on 17 years of professional experiences as a Ph.D. research director at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, 19 years teaching at St. Olaf, and four years working in the Stephen Ministry at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield.

The actual experiments done in the lab here either represent adaptations of research work, or method’s development work done in the Instrumental Analysis course, or have been adapted from the interdependent management style that was developed for research in optical emission spectroscopy, and on experiences in teaching undergraduate analytical chemistry, between 1965 and 1982 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Additionally, many components were learned from watching successful industrial research and development efforts in the companies for which Upper Management consulted over the past 30 years. The techniques of role-playing are adaptations of approaches used in the Stephen Ministry training taken, taught, and used here in Northfield.

What is Role-Playing?

What is role-playing? It is not a "gimmick". Formal role-playing is a legitimate group activity. It has been used for training counselors, therapists, ministers, physicians, sociologists, and teachers. It has been used in AA, chemical abuse rehabilitation, management training, and for training professionals in small group dynamics.

Basically, role-playing is the activity of acting out, or mimicking. The "role" that is mimicked is a perspective or a personality that is defined to demonstrate some behavior pattern. The role is acted out, usually in a small group of less than 6 people, by adopting an exaggerated stereotypical aspect of the behavior pattern. The stereotyping and the exaggeration accent key functions of the role for teaching purposes. In a word then, role-playing is acting out of a deliberately exaggerated personality or cultural stereotype for the teaching of others and for experiential learning.

How is Role-Playing Learned in the Analytical Lab?

In the analytical lab role-playing is first learned, and then done, in steps. At the start of the semester, it is introduced, individually. In the first set of four experiments it is explored in "Companies" of four students. In the last four experiments, it is practiced in these same Companies of four students. The key small group unit needed to learn role-playing is the "bench", or "Company". To follow this, you need to look at the lab schedule of experiments and understand the four roles that are defined here. These four roles are as follows:

What Are the Roles to be Played?




Why Are We Doing Role-Playing in an Analytical Chemistry Lab?


These are the four roles. What are the benefits of playing these roles? The benefit of role-playing is obvious once it has been done, but subtly deceptive beforehand.

The role-playing activity allows you to explore the more dramatic aspects of living the role without the penalties of accountable responsibility of continued involvement in it. While it is a formal game, with formal play, it carries enough of the actual role by experience that it is almost impossible not to learn from the activity, even when done superficially.

If you role-play seriously, the experience can be quite intense. It is a great way to learn, and have some fun in the process. It helps you get ready for group interactions in future industrial and academic research situations. And, it allows a lot more work to be done on problems that are a lot more interesting than can be done when other approaches have been used in the past.

How Does Role-Playing Work in the Lab?

How do these roles actually operate in the day to day laboratory environment? First, understand that all of your experiments and all of the physical arrangements in our analytical lab have been deliberately designed with role-playing, or its equivalent, in mind as a central theme.

For example, each open area between the laboratory benches is designated as a "Company" or a Company Bay Area, and accommodates a maximum of four people, one for each role. Where there are too few or too many in the lab "section" (the "Division"), rotations are formed into smaller Companies. We have to work this out in the first "staff meetings" for the semester

Each Company is equipped with its own instrumentation, placed on adjacent benches to the open space, and the instrumentation is deliberately quadruplicated in the four Companies. This allows each Company, as well as the people in it, to operate interdependently.

Each Company is equipped with one Mac Mac 7100 computer. This is for Manager to use in preparing reports and diagnosing results. Each Company also has one interfaced, stand-alone Mac 7200 microcomputer for Hardware and Software to use. The Macintosh Mac 7200 allows physical linking between the lab and lecture room, using the Analytical Chemistry server and the ethernet network, which is present in both the lab and class rooms.

Each Company has its own hood and set of reagents, sinks, deionized water, and glassware for Chemist to use, along with its own small parts collection. Specialized reagents, glassware, digital pipettes, and plastic containers are available on the "Chem Cart" so Chemist can move between lab locations, such as the hoods, the sink, and some remote instruments.

The instrumentation for each Company consists of one electronic analytical balance, one serially interfaced pH meter, one electronic top loading balance, one serially interfaced multichannel spectrophotometer, one portable pH meter, and one isochratic liquid chromatograph. The diagram above shows a typical layout of these resources, with rough locations for the Company microcomputer and other instrumentation. Hardware, in consultation with Manager, will determine the daily location of needed devices.

The open area between the benches is the Company Bay Area, and there are located the four role-players. Manager has a station at the end of the area where the Mac 7200 computer is plugged into a Duo mini-dock with full keyboard and video display. Chemist works along the bottom half of the top bench. Software works at or near the other full Duo/DuoDock computer, which services instrumentation on the top half of the bottom bench. Hardware works mainly along the top half of the bottom bench. These are not restricted locations, but represent where most people naturally gravitate during an experiment. On those occasions when there are three people in a Company, Hardware and Software are kept as distinct roles, with separate responsibilities, but done by one person. In this case, Manager often does more of the work in one or another role as the tasks become more or less demanding. Experience has indicated either four or three people can play out the four roles effectively.

The bottom half of the bottom bench in the diagram becomes the work area for the Chemist in the next Company, and so forth until the end of the lab room is reached at the East wall, which contains only half of a bench.


Where is "The Professor" in All of This?

Where does "the Prof." figure in this? As your teaching professor, she or he is "Upper Management". As with your Manager's role, Upper Management is the only person responsible for the quality of your educational experience.

If, for example, you fail to learn the chemistry, instrumentation, and programs that constitute the lab because of the role-playing mode of operation, then such is the responsibility of Upper Management. Should you, however, learn an immense amount of and about these aspects of the lab, because of the role-playing mode of operation, then such too is Upper Management’s responsibility. As Harry Trumann allegedly so aptly put it, for any Manager, "The buck stops here!".

The role that Upper Management plays during the lab periods is that of Consultant. Upper Management will consult for you, but not for free. If you need technical information, then Upper Management will help you get it, and that is free. But, if you want Upper Management to make a decision for you, then s/he works by "bid and job contract", and the fee is (really!) one apple per request. You have access to apples; Upper Management has decision making experience. It is a good bargain.

What will Upper Management do during the lab? First, the roles are not self-teaching. While Upper Management has not had to actually coach anyone in the past, there still are techniques to be learned. Upper Management does instruct, and does trouble-shoot, and not as a paid consultant!

The decision making responsibilities lie with each Company's Manager. I set up the Companies, work with the stockroom, lecture at the start of the lab periods to explain the organization, and write and rewrite the experiments. But, the most important thing I do is evaluate (a sort of grading) the Company through its Manager.

And, when requested to make decisions, Upper Management will consult, for an apple.


What Are Some Responsibilities for the Role-Players?

What are specific examples of some responsibilities of these roles? Each experiment will have in its write-up some description of the objectives of the experiment. This will help establish the specific responsibilities for the experiment. In general, however, there are responsibilities for all of the experiments that fall to the various roles more or less as follows:


Manager has to handle the organization of the experiment. S/He explains and specifically interprets the written objectives of the experiment. S/He also handles and resolves any conflicts between personnel.

S/He decides when parts of the experiment should be done, and how to handle potentially competitive demands on the Company resources from becoming impediments to experiment execution. S/He makes sure the work is done on time, makes sure his/her staff has read the experiment and knows how to implement their roles, understands the roles, and assures that each role is implemented at the level of quality required.

Manager is the person who establishes safe laboratory practices, in consultation with Upper Management.

Manager also electronically writes the lab summary results, reviews the data and submits what is needed to explain the experiment results during the Management Interview. Manager reports directly either to Staff or to Upper Management, and assures Upper Management that each person in the Company is fully aware of what is going on in each other's role-playing.

In other words, Manager makes sure that each person in his/her Company knows what each other person is doing, why they are doing it, and how things are going, as they are going. Manager may do this in any way desired, ranging from pre-experiment staff meetings to post-experiment debriefing.

But, if Software doesn't know the kind of chemistry that Chemist is doing, while Chemist is doing it, then that is a management problem, leading to a lower grade for the entire Company. And the responsibility for this lies with the Company Manager!


Chemist has the specific responsibility of making, dispensing, and using the solutions and preparations for the specific experiment. Upper Management usually will provide the stock. But, the preparation of sub-standards, aliquots, dilutions, and final solutions for measurement all falls to Chemist. Along with this comes the responsibility for the correct preparation.

If, for example, results come in too high because there was an error in the standardization of a base solution due to a weighing error in preparing the primary standard acid, then Chemist must assume local Company accountability for that, and Manager must assume responsibility for allowing it to reverberate though the experiment to the final result.

The responsibilities of these two roles are thus close, and in fact are interrelated. The two roles are interdependent. Communication is all important!


Hardware has those very specific responsibilities associated with making the Company instruments run properly. For example, it would be Hardware who would read the instruction manual for the instrument and learn from that manual how to operate it, in the context of the experiment! Hardware thus also has to know and understand the complete context of the experiment.

For example, in setting up the scan rate for a spectrophotometer, Hardware would have to know if any of the chemicals being measured were unstable with time, perhaps due to air oxidation. Such would influence his/her selection of how to run the instrument for this one experiment, but the same instrument might best be run differently in another experiment.

Hardware also will connect parts of instruments together, solder cables and connectors, and arrange physical components on the bench when appropriate. Hardware would assemble the circuits needed for the local pH meter, would test connections, would locate spare parts and, with help from Staff or Upper Management, do limited repairs. Thus, Hardware needs to know what Chemist has made, just as Chemist needs to know what the instrument behavior will be as Hardware will use it. These roles are also interdependent, and it is up to Manager to make sure that Chemist and Hardware are on speaking terms, and in fact are speaking to each other in time to influence the decisions that each will be making during the lab period. Upper Management will be circulating around the lab looking for this kind of "speaking collegially".


Software emerges last, but with responsibilities that operate first. For example, Software holds the means for communication and it is communication between people in the Company that makes the whole thing work.

While it is Manager who has to electronically write the experiment results, it is Software who makes such writing possible by being "on top" of the Company word processor, and helping Manager use it! Software needs to know what Chemist is doing because it is Software who helps Hardware run all of the instruments that are computer based. And, today, that means just about every instrument there is!

Software also handles the spreadsheets on the Company computers, and the spreadsheets are the repository for the data that Chemist solicits from Hardware, and that Manager has to assume are correctly calculated, and so forth. If there are any keys to the kingdom here, it is Software who uses them to unlock the communication puzzle. And, it most certainly is communication that makes the experiment actually work. (Software does spend a lot of time reading manuals!).

How is All This Organized?

To get all of this going, look at the lab schedule, and especially the column marked "Roles" (see diagram below). These responsibilities are clearly marked in the first set of four experiments. In fact, this is the place for you to practice role-playing in the technical context. These experiments will be the ones you use to learn the roles. Then, in the last set of four experiments (called "dilemmas") you put all of your experience to work and do a fully accountable job of role-playing.


Week of

Experiment Objectives And Responsibilities




Introduction to Role-Playing and Laboratory Computing

(Meet in Rolvaag 250 on your scheduled lab day)



Defining the Kinds of Role-Playing Responsibilities


Teaches all about Laboratory Safety and Lab Statistics


Person A


Teaches all about MSDS forms and solution preparation


Person B


Teaches all about serial data acquisition and file transfers


Person C


Teaches all how to solder a serial cable for the balances



Round Robin Certification of Laboratory Glassware


Monitors certification procedures and organizes the statistics


Person A


Cleans, handles, and measures all volumetric glassware


Person B


Designs spreadsheets and does inter-company data transfers


Person C


Interfaces balance to computer and assists Chemist



Production Quality Control Lead Analysis


Designs round robin statistics and schedules experiment


Person B


Forms and digests the lead chromate precipitates


Person C


Designs spreadsheets for inter-company round robin transfer


Person A


Interfaces balance to computer and assists Chemist w/Ppts



Statistical / Chemical Evaluation of Lead Data


Designs lead ISE procedures for standard addition detns


Person B


Prepares standard lead solutions for ISE determinations


Person C


Designs spreadsheet to compare ISE and Ppt methods.


Person A


Assists Chemist with Filtration, and makes ISE msmts



Notice also that roles are rotated! No one person is Manager all of the time! In fact, each person in the Company assumes one role, once, for each of four roles during the final four experiments. In this way, each person gets a chance to play each role, and to understand how that role becomes interdependent with the others when the lab is over for the semester.

What About Grading?

The role-playing laboratory is graded. Since the department has stipulated that all laboratories will carry 0.25 course credit, and then be graded P/N, that is how the role-playing laboratory will be formally graded. Upper Management, and Manager, will meet in the Management Interview to assign letter grades to the experiments. At then end of the semester, Upper Management will translate the letter grades into P/N equivalents. Unless performance is noticably poor, it will take a grade of C or better to pass an experiement, and at least 5 out of the 8 experiments must be passed in order to pass the lab.

The "grades" that are assigned in the first set of four experiments are developmental grades, and your Management Interviews are directed a lot more toward improvement and getting ready than they are toward evaluation. These first four graded interview sessions are designed to signal how well along the way the Company is toward doing the final role-playing in the last set of four experiments. It is in those "dilemmas" that the tough grades are assigned, and that all of the above

responsibilities become real.

In the role-playing model, it is Manager who gets all of the tangibles associated with the experiment. These tangibles are the Management Interview, the evaluations, the suggestions for improvements, the requests for permission to use the results in future classes, and, last, the letter grade for the work done.

Manager then conveys these tangibles to others in the Company in the debriefing session. With respect to the letter grade, all of the people in the Company get the same grade that their Manager gets. Thus, the zero-sum game fails; if Manager is not doing well, none other in the Company can be doing better.

The Management Interview

During the time that you are working in the lab, Upper Management will pass around a calendar and sign-up sheet and ask Manager to make an appointment for a Management Interview. The management interviews are those sessions where the grade for the work is assigned to Manager.

The Management Interview is not an oral examination. It is not a time when you have to defend what you have done against Upper Management's criticisms. Instead, it is an interview, not too different from the performance evaluation interviews you will have in the professional world.

The Management Interview gives you a way of reporting back to others in your Company what objectives and tasks were effective, and what were ineffective, in meeting the overall lab objective as given on the cover page of the experiment. As the grade is set, information comes from three sources:

(1.) During the interview, Manager communicates verbally what s/he accomplished during the lab.

(2.) Lab data, and interpretations of the data, must be available, either on paper, or, preferably, on the Analytical Chemistry Server.

(3.) Spreadsheets, programs, and electronic files of raw lab data should be available on the Analytical Chemistry Server.

A common concern is what weight is given to "getting the right answer". There is no one single right answer in our course. When an analytical determination is done, getting statistically significant results for that work is, of course, important. But, the determination itself is only one part of the session, and getting good returns in the other areas also counts.


During the interview, the above three sources of information will be reviewed and used to aid the verbal part of the discussion. In addition, Upper Management has good lab management goals that he will expect Manager to comment on. There are no intended subtleties here. These good lab management goals are as follows. It would be a good idea for Manager to have filled in some answers to these questions before coming to the interview, in conjunction with other role-players in the Company.

Manager should come to the interview with all of these "boxes filled in", in the sense that she or he should have information available to discuss in any or all of the areas considered to be good laboratory management.

It is up to Manager to be sure that all people in his or her Company know about the need for discussing the information in the boxes as they are doing the work. No one should be left out, and no one should consider that only Manager needs to know what is happening.

Good Lab Management Goals for Assigning Grades in the Management Interview

1. How did you assure that your people had good communication with each other while the experiment was going on? What specifically did you, Manager, do to keep up good communication?

2. How did you assure that the person playing one role know what the reverberations of his/her actions were (or were likely to be) on others in the group playing other roles?

3. What did you, Manager, do to define and interpret the objectives of the experiment to your people before they had to act on them in the lab? As the lab progressed, and problems came up, how did you adjust and reinterpret these perceptions?

4. What techniques did you use to resolve "squabbles" and any other personnel problems that came up during the lab? What management skills were most useful to you for this, based on our reading list for Managers.

5. How well were the specific objectives of the experiment actually met?

What were the results?

Where are the lab data and records? Are they all time and date stamped?

What did you do to assure that your graphs, tables, and spreadsheets were professionally prepared?

What statistical tests did you do to determine acceptable results?

6. How did you manage laboratory safety during the time the experiment was underway? Consider labels, MSDS forms, hoods, and chemical handling.

7. What did you do about hazardous waste disposal?

8. What management flaws occurred during your tenure as Manager? How did you compensate for them as you became aware of them? What would you do differently if you had to manage this experiment again?

9. What kind of debriefing session are you planning to explain to your people the grade you got for them?

10. Past years have produced the following problems, most of which caused a potential "A" grade to be lowered. Are any of these flaws problems that you encountered?

Manager doing the work of the other role-players after the fact to make it look more professional, or to be more technically acceptable.


Failure to take critical data.

Indications that one or another of Manager's people were playing the "zero-sum" game, i.e., improving their perceived position by causing another role-player to do less well.

Late work.

Loss of lab data not written down during the work.

Loss or corruption of electronic data.

Mathematical mistakes.

Poor or incorrect spreadsheet design.

Poor record keeping.

Poor understanding by one person of what was happening as the work of other players progressed leading to poor contributions to the whole effort.

Spreadsheet graphs, or other graphical presentations, with non-integral divisions along the axes, poor labeling, bad regression display, or in other ways awkward to read during the interview.

Statistically bad results at the 95% confidence level, based on class histograms, round robin testing, or the class data base from previous semesters.

Undated work.

Unsafe work.


Good results do produce good grades. But, the prevailing principle in use in our lab is that good results stem first from good management.

Good Grades Come from Good Results;
Good Results Come from Good Management

What then does Upper Management value as good management? Here are some suggestions for Manager.

(1.) Enablement

The style of management that is valued most highly is one of enablement. This means, in its simplest form, doing things that make it possible for others in the Company to do their work effectively, as opposed to doing it for them.

The central teaching objective, by which the entire lab is structured, has two parts. One is interdependence between distinct, unique individuals. The other is division of responsibility (and thus accountability) between interdependent individuals. It is Manager who keeps the interdependence active by enabling all workers to do their own work. It is Manager who assures that only one person retains responsibility, and accountability, for one role and its outcomes, no matter how labor is locally divided.

This style of management is well described in three of the Company reference books that Manager may want to read. These books may either be bought or time-shared between the Managers. They are, in order of relevance:

(a.) Empowering Leadership: A Brief Introduction, Bruce B. Roberts and Howard I. Thorsheim, Lutheran Brotherhood Foundation, 1987.

(b.) Managing on the Edge, Richard Tanner Pascale, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1990.

(c.) The One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, Berkeley Books, NY, 1986.

Empowering Leadership does a fine job of explaining the management philosophy of enabling a person to do work, good or better, by him or herself, in opposition to doing the work for him or her. Roberts and Thorsheim use the word empowerment instead of enablement, but the intent is what Upper Management values. The authors show very clearly that it is often counterproductive to do work for someone else. In some ways it can lead to alienation so strong that it becomes bad management.

In his book Managing on the Edge, Pascale shows by case study and example the disastrous results when managers in big industries attempted the kind of control that is the opposite of enablement. He is quite clear about how to handle the apparent disorder that results when enablement operates. He also deals with apparent paradoxes, and does a fine job of showing how successful enablement operates in, among other places, Japanese management. He makes very explicit the ways in which others have been able to divide responsibility, to celebrate uniqueness and diversity, while at the same time enabling workers to link together in a non-competitive manner. He calls this the "fit/split" style of managing, but it still is just what Manager can do here.

The One-Minute Manager can help Manager understand both how to enable someone to do their own work, while at the same time being able to assertively criticize and evaluate their efforts. This is not paradoxical; the book will help with its punchy, anecdotal style show how this can be approached.

All of these goals will require Manager to do quality work in setting up communication between the other roles while the work is going on. This is not simple, and in fact becomes the second of Manager's main strategies.

(2.) Communication

How can management style be graded? It seems unfair! One answer lies in the ability of people being managed to communicate to each other what they are doing, and what is happening because of it. Simply put, if people are enabled, they will likely feel willing, even anxious, to talk to each other about what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Thus, enablement, which Upper Management values, enhances openness and good communication.

For example, consider that Upper Management approached your Chemist in the lab and asked him/her why Software was reading the sports page instead of working on a good graphing routine for results that were expected as soon as he/she finished the present set of dilutions. If Chemist answered, "Don't ask me, I'm Chemist, not Software." then Upper Management easily could conclude that Manager had instituted a style that lead to privatization, as opposed to enablement and open communication.

Since Upper Management does not value that style, it could be tolerated, but not likely appreciated. If bad results occurred, Upper Management probably would look critically at the style Manager used, as well as the more specific details of the lab steps. In that sense, style could contribute to, if not actually set, the resulting grade.

What tools are available to help Manager establish this communication? One great tool is the ensemble of computers at the bench. As spreadsheets are designed, as reports are written and modified, as graphs are prepared, and as data are taken from the lab instruments, Manager can bring the other role-players to the computer, by beck and call, and they can all caucus under the lead of Software on the local event. It is very powerful!

(3.) Overspecialization

We all have identifiable specialization’s. Some styles of management reward high degrees of specialization. The problem with specialization is that it can produce isolation, and introversion, instead of just a high skill, when it is over applied, or even applied for too long a time.

But, if specialties are developed with the idea of solving a problem that only exists for a limited time, and if Manager rewards innovation and creativity (even in its primitive forms) with as much fervor as s/he rewards detailed skills, then specialization can be acquired with the idea that it will be shared with others in the group.

Management that avoids overspecialization is one that sets up ways, and rewards, for a lot of "coming together" to exchange viewpoints and ideas on how each person's role is doing in the problem solving plan. It also is one that studiously avoids diminishing the uniqueness of each role-player, and what they bring in their role to the problem solving effort.

This kind of management is at the heart of the discussion in M. Scott Peck's book, The Different Drum (Simon and Schuster, 1987). Peck points out that the specialization that will accompany each role in our lab is best combined on a very regular basis with other specializations so that each person can have the opportunity to modify their approach according to their impact on the others and the net effectiveness they are presently having on progress to a solution. This is a practical way of defining the broader terms of community and interdependence.

(4.) Record Keeping

It always has been, and always probably will be, a problem for Manager to know how to instruct the others in the Company in what records to keep while the work is being done. There is the question of how, and how much, to record, and in what device.

Software can be a real help to Manager by setting up a spreadsheet whose function is to hold both narrative remarks about the work going on, and columns of data, labels, and calculations. Excel, or its other workalikes, do very well here, since narrative may be entered in its "word processor" mode, and columns of data and formulas are what it is made for. For the equivalent of legal protection, dated printouts of the spreadsheet can be dumped during the lab.

Professional Managers use a device like the "day timer" to keep track of their events. Professional Chemists use bound, dated, signed, and witnessed lab books. Still, Upper Management here feels that the spreadsheet/computer combination, with periodic dumps to the printer for protection, is the best.

(5.) Safety

It should come as no surprise to Manager that the final responsibility for laboratory safety lies with him or her. This is a complex task that cannot be learned from a book. It involves tours of the lab, stringent enforcement of safety glasses rules, and a host of discussion points about situations and items in the lab that others can get into trouble with if they are unaware of potential hazards. In the next period, Manager will take a very active role in teaching lab safety.

By far the most important professional aspect of safety that Manager must accomplish is the education of his or her Company members in the "right to know" aspects of the chemicals that they will be handling during the day. If materials are hazardous on skin contact, Chemist must know this. If they have a low flash point, or a high volatility, everyone must know this, before the chemical is opened. If they are carcinogenic, everyone must know this. It is up to Manager to make sure this happens.

In this introductory session, Manager, Software, and Chemist will get together and practice reading an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) from the Malinckrodt Chemical Company data base, and editing it with Microsoft Word into a form where it can be included in the course compendium. This is what Manager will use as the primary way of teaching others in the Company what they the "right to know" about the chemicals that they will be handling.

(6.) Attendance

The Company groups are small. The work may not be excessive, but the fact that responsibility is divided means that if one role-player is absent, his or her role will suffer, and the Company will suffer accordingly. When responsibility is divided, everyone is a key player. This is not true when labor is divided, and responsibility is diffuse.

Past practice has indicated a good way to handle absences, which must be limited to circumstances beyond the person's control, is for Manager to double up the role, and assume the responsibilities of the absentee role-player, in addition to his or her own. Thus, if Chemist is absent, Manager must both manage, and handle all of the responsibilities of having the right solutions in the right place at the right time.

If a role-player drops the course (it happens), then Upper Management will work with the remaining members of the Company to decide how they will finish the semester. Companies of three have worked in the past, although it makes a lot more work for Manager. Companies of two will not work, and must be disbanded, with the role-players moved into other Companies. Companies of five can work, although it is hard to find enough work to keep everyone productive. All Managers should work to encourage all members of their Company to stay involved, and not drop.

(7.) Written Records and Reports

Professional analytical chemists prepare progress reports, research summaries, and proposals in writing. Thus, it is appropriate that Manager have in writing something to bring to the management interview, as a report. What distinguishes the kind of reporting that Upper Management values in the role-playing lab from reporting you may have done elsewhere is the fact that only Manager prepares and submits a report, during the time the group is working. Current trends in the profession discourage lengthy written "lab reports" with subjective dialog or commentary added. All lab records can be subpoenaed at any time by a host of legal bodies, and prudent management calls for elimination of narrative commentary that later could be litigated out of context.

Manager will often find that there are open times during the lab when responsibility is divided so well, and productivity is so high, that s/he will have open time to work on other things. Some in the past have chosen to read the sports pages. While Upper Management is not impressed with this, it is a choice that Manager can make. A better choice is to use any open time to prepare the lab records for the upcoming Management Interview while the work is actually going on. If this is done, the work will all be in the Analytical Chemistry Server when the period ends, and it seldom will require more than occasional editing to update after the period is over. When the period ends, all is done!

What should be in the lab records? A change from previous efforts that Manager may have made lies in the fact that Upper Management wants to have all of the experiment records in the Analytical Chemistry Server in some form. They need not be printed on paper. Then, during the management interview, they may be called up from the server and read on screen. Names of files that have been stored can be listed, as well as names of spreadsheets. In fact, it is not at all unusual during an interview to call up a spreadsheet and look at it, or its graphs, while a discussion of Manager's strategy is underway.

This does mean that Manager will have to develop a facility in using the word processor Upper Management uses (Microsoft Word) and also develop the ability to move files from the local microcomputer to the Analytical Chemistry Server. The files are best dragged from the local computer to the open server. It is one of the things that Manager and Software should work on together in the first introductory period.

A few sample reports, that until they were printed for this experiment were strictly electronic, are appended so Manager can see what has been done in the past. It is important for Manager to realize that when reporting is all electronically done, all records are available in their pure form, all graphs remain in their native spreadsheets, and the only narrative needed is names of files and simple explanations of what the reasoning behind management decisions were, following the "goals" previously presented.

The remaining pages of this introductory experiment will be added individually each semester to allow current software to be explored, and updated procedures seen. Upper Management will provide these at the start of the period, along with a schedule of tutorials and demonstrations to get everyone going.

An example of Manager’s Notes taken during the lab on the Mock Robot Experiment follows so you can see what it means to keep good electronic records during the time an experiment is being executed. These notes were brought to the Management Interview and used while interpreting the results achieved.

Tuesday March 23, 1993


Software: Dianna Krause

Hardware: Jim Bergstrom

Chemist: Beth Gyllstrom

Manager: Susan Green

Goals for this afternoon's lab:

• Get some buffers made, based on Chem. 25 lab, and evaluate their usefulness.

• Make a cable for interface with 3B spectrophotometer and decide whether to use it or not.

• Come up with a robot programming language to use for software/hardware interface.

• Make a dry run with our robot language to get bugs out of the system and try to make provisions for possible problems.

next week's lab:

• run the experiment for real

• create Excel graphs for isosbestic point


Beth is filling out MSDS sheets, and then will begin making up buffer solutions and testing them. Then she needs to decide whether the robot will make solutions next week, or whether she will prepare them and have them ready for the robot. (I favor the second option)


Jim is making a cable, which then we need to decide whether to use or not. Then he will work with Software to come up with all possible commands, defined or understood between them explicitly. He then does a dry run of all of the "macro" commands and the entire experiment to make sure that our language covers all possible contingencies.


Dianna is learning how to run Quick Link to link to the spectrophotometer, and where the basic programs are to run the spectrophotometer. She will then work with Hardware to come up with the robot language and do the dry runs to make sure that all possible problems are covered by the language she and Hardware have worked out. She will also have to decide how spectra are to be recorded and by whom; electronically, on paper or both, by her or by the manager, etc. Dianna has said that she and Jim will start with the example language in the manual and build from there.


Dianna and Jim are working on the mock robot language, while Beth, along with the other chemists are working out a plan of attack for making the 8 solutions for the robot. The eight solutions must span fairly evenly the pH range 2-8. We have also been informed that we are not to share solutions between lab groups. (I'm not sure why, or if this is productive.)

At 15:30 the company is to attend a robot demonstration, to see why the restrictions for Hardware exist.


Some problems that are arising are mainly for chemist, with the restrictions on sharing information it is difficult to figure out what exactly needs to be done. Hopefully these problems will be solved and we can get some information this week to test Dianna's spreadsheet and spot potential problems for next week, since all solutions need to be made up fresh next week.

Robot checklist: before running experiment check the following...

• are all necessary solutions in place?

• place wastebasket to left of Robot for tissue waste

• make sure the strip chart is zeroed- Hardware will do this before becoming robotized

Notes on solution making:

Beth made up 100ml solutions of 1:1 0.2M HOAc/KCl and 0.2M NaOAc from stock solutions of the same molarity. The densities of each were calculated to be 1.0013g/mL and 1.0109g/mL respectively. Laura's chemist obtained densities of 1.003g/mL and 0.9999g/mL respectively. I decided that for today's rough calculations we would assume that the two densities were equal to each other and their practical density was 1.000. If today's results do not support this assumption we will use next week's calculated densities to obtain an average density to use to calculate the end weights for the eight solutions without approximation.

Next week's to do list:

• make up solutions and samples (Chemist)

• obtain pH's of said solutions, theoretically or practically (Chemist)

• run through robot checklist (Manager, Software, Hardware)

• recheck to make sure that all is in order for experiment (Manager, Software, Hardware)

• run experiment (All)

• import runs into Excel (Software)

• create graphs to show isosbestic point (Manager, Software)

Before next week:

• type up command list for Software/Hardware

• if solutions approximations do not work, meet with Beth and fix them


spreadsheet for isosbestic graphs: wentue/susan manger/isosbestic point


Tuesday March 30, 1993


Additions to robot check list:

• are all necessary solutions in place?

• place wastebasket to left of Robot for tissue waste

• make sure the strip chart is zeroed- Hardware will do this before becoming robotized

• check on # of kimwipes

• make sure that only one cell is being used for the samples


notes on isosbestic points

Quantitative Chemical Analysis Daniel C. Harris (1991)

p. 522

If there are 2 absorbing species in solution, and the spectrum of pure X crosses the spectrum of pure Y, then any solution which is a mixture of these two species will cross at that point, the isosbestic point

The existence of an isosbestic point during a chemical reaction is a good evidence that only two principle species are present

An isosbestic point occurs when ex = eY and [X] + [Y] is constant

Data on solutions



wt ind(g)

wt NaOAc(g)

wt HOAc/KCl

Total wt(g)

















































ave indicator wt (g) : 2.007

st deviation (g) : 0.002


Workshop on Laboratory Computing