Cancelled experiments due to broken vacuum pump system

Broken vacuum pump system leaves Organic Chemistry students waiting to experiment

The vacuum pump system under the Center for Sciences has remained broken since the fall semester resulting in cancelled experiments and a professor to build her own system.

The Pierce College Council approved Feb 25, 2016, a request for $40,000 to repair the vacuum pump system in the Center for Sciences. Chemistry professor Isidore “Izzy” Goodman and Chemistry Department Chair Sara Harvey said they do not know when it will be fixed, and they directed the Roundup to ask Director of Facilities Paul Nieman for that information. Nieman could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.

Organic Chemistry 1, Organic Chemistry 2 and Biochemistry require the pump during experiments.

Experiment number four in Organic Chemistry, preparing soluble salts by fractional crystallization,  was canceled due to the non-functioning vacuum pump system, according to Goodman.

“The experiment has been postponed this [spring] semester, but if the vacuum is not fixed soon, the experiment may be canceled,” said Cari Meyer Joiner, chemistry professor. 

The underground pump system is broken but Joiner created her own make-shift vacuum pump system, or vacuum manifold, using a miniature pump  so some experiments that use the pump can still be done in one classroom.

Joiner said the vacuum manifold she built is a standard graduate school set up used for drawing reagents and other tasks.

“It doesn’t drain without the vacuum pulling it, so we need that for our experiment,” Joiner said.

Biochemistry major Drake Edgett said students are lucky to have a professor who is capable of making a vacuum, but it is a slower process than if the main pump worked.

“The broken vacuum pumps are a bit of a hindrance,” Edgett, said. “We do have a very smart and intelligent teacher [Joiner], who had the tools and knowledge on how to remedy this situation and make it as best as possible. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.”

Joiner said students using her equipment limits how on many get the hands-on experience with the experiment.

“It creates a bottle-neck, so the labs take longer,” Joiner said.

When the system is working properly 24 students can work on their experiments. Now the class is divided into groups of nine students, with each group taking its turn with the equipment. The groups of nine are also separated, with four students on one side of the experiment, while the other five students are working at the other end.

“So we’re going from 24 down to nine, and that’s because we bought a second[pump], because during the Fall,” Joiner said.  We only had that one[pump] that I dug out of an old glassware box.”

Joiner said when she realized the vacuum was not being repaired quickly she ordered a second and as a result it is better this semester than it was in the fall.

“I’m not saying this is great, because I would rather have everyone doing this, but I think it’s educational,” Meyer Joiner said. “[Students] get to see how the vacuum works and see what a trap is… it’s not just a mystery suction device, [students] understand more of what is going on there.”

Students are supposed to have access to the vacuum at all of their lab desks but now must walk over to the corner of the room to use it.

“In an ideal scenario, we would have every station available, vacuums working, so that every student could do this at their spot as opposed to only nine students at once with our new back-up plan,” Meyer Joiner said.

Joiner said the pumps have a lifetime and will die at some point

“I know that it’s just slow because they’re getting outside personnel to fix it,” Meyer Joiner said. “Hopefully, we’ll just learn from this and see how, if we could diagnose it, that would be nice. Learn how it broke and if we can prevent it from happening in the future, and make the pump last longer.”