Lab techniques in quizbowl science

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Lab techniques in quizbowl science

Post by suds1000 »

Reading the thread about Science Monstrosity III in the Announcements section of this board got me thinking about lab techniques and how underasked they seem in quizbowl science.

Although I'm not an especially good science player and probably don't have much room to talk, it seems to me that lab techniques should play more of a role in QB science in general, if only because said techniques are crucial to any science curriculum and to understanding various scientific phenomena on a non-theoretical level.

Personally, I'd be very pleased to see tossup leadins that relate to lab techniques (e.g. "When produced in the laboratory, it must be vacuum distilled to prevent formation of Side Product A") because it seems like tossups of this sort best reward real knowledge. I've heard too many (especially organic chemistry and in some cases biochemistry questions) that just say "First isolated from blah, they are produced by the Named-for-Some-Guy-Only-Important-For-This reaction, and acid hydrolysis of them leads to blah. FTP, name these compounds defined as blah."

Now, I'm not saying that this is a particularly bad structure for a question, but it just seems like simple list memorization from some appendix of Bruice's or Carey's textbooks will win the day every time, and this should almost certainly be avoided if possible.

Anyone agree? Also, it seems like physics tossups are less prone to memorization, but is using lab technique leadins feasible for physics tossups? If someone more knowledgeable than myself could comment on this, I'd very much like to hear your thoughts.


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Re: Lab techniques in quizbowl science

Post by ezubaric »

suds1000 wrote:about lab techniques and how underasked they seem in quizbowl science.
I would agree, which is why I originally made it fall into a seperate category for SM, but Seth's comments encouraged me to put them back in the overall distribution (but I would still urge would-be writers to include such questions in their submissions).

Actually, I think that CS is the only field where lab techniques predominate. Instead of asking about fundamental algorithms and the theory of CS, questions gravitate toward programming languages and basic data structures. Important things, to be sure, but certainly not the aspects of the field that I think should be the primarly focus.

I think that there has been a welcome (at least for some) increase in the amount of "technique" questions in biology, but I this might just be a skewed sample. Has anyone else gotten a similar impression?
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Post by vandyhawk »

I think that chemistry has far more lab technique questions than bio and esp. physics, probably b/c there's more to ask about. Whenever I write a tossup on a chemical reaction, I try to include something relevant from chem lab (like removing water for Fischer esterification), and I think at least a decent number of this kind of question overall has some sort of lab aspect, but it might be nice to see still more. I can't say that I really like the "identify the following pieces of lab equipment" questions, but things like thin-layer and gas chromatography and IR and NMR spectroscopy seem to get sufficient coverage.

For bio, the only technique I can think of that comes up with regularity is electrophoresis, though I could be wrong. I know the Ames test, Gram staining, and PCR have come up occasionally, and I think I remember answering a Western blot tossup at ACF regs a couple years ago. I don't remember if things like ELISA, DNA microarrays, Northern/Southern blots, quantum dots, RNAi, etc. have ever come up, but they should since they're some of the most widely used techniques these days.

I don't know if I'm qualified enough to talk about the lack of physics technique questions, but it just seems like there is less to write about that remains accessible. I will say that it was nice to see an instrumentation clue for the Raman question from ACF regs this year.
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Post by grapesmoker »

I'm not sure what would qualify as a "lab technique" in physics. I can't think of too many things that have definite names akin to fractional distillation, electrophoresis, etc. I guess things like optical pumping would fall into this category. If you can identify them unambiguosly, these make for perfectly cromulent questions.

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Post by No Rules Westbrook »

Uncharacteristically for me, I'll stick to what I know and reference organic chem only here. Despite the fact that my "knowledge" would probably be rewarded by the type of leadins suggested here, I actually like orgo questions now if they're well written - usually describing theoretical mechanism of reaction, ending with products. I could understand the frustration if someone were writing tossups on the guy that the Tollens test is named for - as if he were important and not the test. I can't think of too many times when that's happened. If the complaint is that you can pick up the delightful Bruice book and learn what you need to know, then I think that's good. I think non-science people (of which I'm certainly a member) would agree.

More generally, I don't like the move to make quiz bowl an accurate reflection of collegiate studies. I don't think it should be a "test" of what people learn in college or what they actually do when they go get jobs. I don't want to feel like I'm in school when I'm playing quiz bowl. Granted, the things that show up in college often deserve to be asked about because they're important or "famous". But, the reason why I play quiz bowl is precisely because I hated organic chem lab. I can remember screwing up every reaction/experiment I ever performed. I would much rather sit in the corner and memorize reactions that I'll never perform. Therein lies the charm of qb for me - knowing stuff without actually having to do stuff.
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Post by mattreece »

I mostly second what Ryan Westbrook says. Quizbowl shouldn't reflect curriculum, as I've said a number of times. For that matter, in physics what one does in a lab for a course often bears almost no relation to what actual experimentalists are doing. (Though it might bear some relation to what they did several decades ago.) Currently practiced laboratory techniques are sometimes acceptable question content. But in general lab techniques are highly specialized and specific to a given discipline. Some of them change quite rapidly, while the science that is learned with them might be much more lasting. Questions on well-known types of laboratory technology that have lasted quite some time and probably will persist well into the future are reasonable, to a certain degree. But in general I'm skeptical of such questions.