A Moveable Feast—A Progressive Approach to the Unit Operations Laboratory


  • Wm. Curtis Conner, Jr. University of Massachusetts
  • Karl D. Hammond University of Massachusetts
  • Robert L. Laurence University of Massachusetts


The authors describe an alternative format for the senior laboratory in which students are allowed—indeed, expected—to communicate with previous groups and build on their results. The effect is a unit operations laboratory in which students are empowered to propose the experiments they wish to do and in which the cumulative experience of the entire class is evident at the end of the term. The result is a much more complex and fruitful learning environment.

Author Biographies

Wm. Curtis Conner, Jr., University of Massachusetts

William Curtis Conner Jr. completed his B.S. in chemical engineering in 1968 and his Ph.D. in catalytic chemistry in 1973, both at the Johns Hopkins University. After four years at the Allied Chemical Corporation, he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in chemical engineering in 1979. Most recently, he has studied the influence of microwaves on catalysis, sorption, and porous catalyst synthesis.

Karl D. Hammond, University of Massachusetts

Karl Hammond studied chemical engineering at Caltech, where he earned a B.S. in 2003. Between 2004 and 2009, he earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He was a lecturer at UMass Amherst in chemical engineering for the fall of 2009, teaching the undergraduate laboratory course. He is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he studies the materials science associated with magnetic confinement fusion.

Robert L. Laurence, University of Massachusetts

Robert Laurence is a professor of chemical engineering (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he joined the faculty in 1968. He obtained his Sc.B. in chemical engineering practice from MIT in 1957, continued on to the University of Rhode Island for a master’s degree (1960), and earned his Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1965. He has spent his career studying polymerization kinetics and reactor engineering and modeling polymerization processes; he is a co-author of the textbook Polymerization Process Modeling (Wiley-VCH, 1995). Professor Laurence is the namesake of the Robert L. Laurence Award of the New England Rugby Football Union.