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Measurement of the Length of a Fatty Acid Molecule

Posted on Feb 08 2013 by Jim Woolnough, Anne Taylor

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It is often difficult to find laboratory activities which provide students with hands-on experience and data relating directly phenomena at the atomic or molecular level. This experiment is extremely easy to carry out, even for multiple labs for large cohorts of students, but still provides some direct data relating to the behaviour of single molecules of oleic acid. Analysis of the data requires students to;

·    theorize about how individual molecules are behaving when added to water

·    apply an understanding of the polar nature of water molecules and how this affects the way it interacts with non-polar molecules

·    apply an understanding of how amphipathic molecules, in particular, behave in water.

·    apply this understanding to how phospholipids behave in water leading to the formation of a bilayer.

·    Develop and use skills in computations involving dilutions, area, volume, units of measurement, and exponents.

The last point is quite important in that the decline in quantitative skills in students of science is becoming widely recognized. See, for example, the Quantitative Skills in Science project [http://www.qsinscience.com.au/ ] Building a basic level of skills is becoming a serious problem for foundational course in all areas of science.

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