A fun way to end the semester: Assoc. Prof. Bree Lybbert created a Chemistry Lab Escape Room experience

To round out a busy and trying semester, Assoc. Prof. Breeyawn (Bree) Lybbert (Chemistry) created a chemistry lab escape room experience for her CHEM 109 (Survey of General, Organic, and Biochemistry lab) students at the Manitowoc and Sheboygan campuses.

Students in the class showed up to lab the last week of classes and were greeted by Prof. Lybbert and a generously caution-taped lab door along with signage announcing they were about to enter a Chemistry Escape Room. Students were given a small notebook with rules for the escape room and a periodic table for reference. With a quick explanation of the rules and safety precautions, Prof. Lybbert unlocked the door, started the 60-minute timer displayed on the screen along with appropriate mood music, and the game was on! The students were allowed to work together or solo to find and solve the puzzles hidden (and not-so-hidden) around the room, all while taking detailed notes of any clues and codes they found.

Some puzzles/clues required chemistry knowledge and skills from their time in the chemistry lab all semester, whereas other puzzles/clues were more general chemistry knowledge. Students were initially confused and cautious in how they scoured the lab for clues. A hint given by Prof. Lybbert about 15 minutes into the game, allowed students to open their first puzzle box, which lead to more clues and codes. The opening of the first box seemed to ignite everyone’s excitement and the lab subsequently got noisier as students started working together more, shouting things across the room, and whooping with delight when another lock was opened.

Both groups of students successfully completed the final puzzle in just under 45 minutes and successfully “escaped the chemistry lab” for the semester. The idea for creating a chemistry escape room lab experience was based on a 2019 Journal of Chemical Education Article ( J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96, 5, 955–960). Inspired by the article, Prof. Lybbert decided to try her hand at creating a similar experience for her chemistry students. Some similar puzzles were used but many were created and adapted based on the chemistry content and skills students learned across the semester.

Materials and supplies not normally found in the chemistry lab (such as small lockable boxes, luggage locks with programable codes, caution tape, memo notebooks, and prizes) were purchased for under $100. Many of the supplies will be reused year after year, which makes much of the cost of setting up the experience a one-time cost.

Prof. Lybbert will create a full write-up of the setup of the escape room, with details on each puzzle, as well as a full list of supplies, and other supplemental information. She will publish it as an open educational resource with a Creative Commons license for others to use, adapt, and share. To find the OER link and/or ask questions, please email Prof. Lybbert (lybbertb@uwgb.edu).

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