Academic Perspective: Prof Andrew Horn

Technical Excellence Supporting Teaching

Director of Teaching and Learning, School of Chemistry

The role of The University of Manchester’s world-class infrastructure and technical staff in the generation of internationally competitive research outputs and knowledge transfer is well documented, and is an important draw for academic researchers and businesses to the University from around the world. Perhaps less well documented, but equally important in pursuit of the University’s strategic vision and in attracting excellent students to study at Manchester, is the role of technical staff in teaching and learning – this is especially true in the School of Chemistry.

Being able to ‘do’ practical chemistry is as important as subject knowledge for many of our graduates in their future careers, and it is also an integral part of learning how to be a well-rounded chemist. An effective, professional partnership between technical and academic staff is crucial for around 700 students per year to gain hands-on experience of advanced, modern practical chemistry.

The technical demands of laboratory teaching programmes are wide-ranging: in any given week during the semester in the teaching labs, our technical staff engage in setting up an array of sophisticated experiments, rapid scene-shifting between different classes (a highly complex manoeuvre with very little margin for error), maintenance, calibration and operation of sophisticated analytical equipment, ‘on-the-fly’ problem solving, procurement, scheduling and implementation of laboratory safety to name but a few things. To deal with this level of student throughput whilst maintaining a world-class student experience requires not only skill but dedication and attention to detail.

Many of School’s technical specialists also engage in ‘face-to-face’ activities with students, for example guiding them through the operation of state-of-the-art instrumentation used in advanced practicals and research projects. A number of technical staff are also heavily involved in the design of practical teaching, both in the process of turning academic ideas into workable, in-lab experiments and in the specification, commissioning and operation of advanced instrumentation. And of course ‘stuff breaks’ in the real world: we rely heavily on the expertise, and often the ingenuity, of a wide range of technical specialists including IT experts, electronic and mechanical engineers and, of course, glassblowers (well it is chemistry after all) to keep our teaching apparatus and instrumentation in excellent shape.

The importance of our technical colleagues’ skill and dedication to the teaching  programmes, undergraduate research projects, and thus the student experience, cannot be overstated.


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