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Chemistry professor Xiaolei Gao, Ph.D.  knew it had been a challenging semester for her students.  She wanted to make sure those in her organic chemistry labs closed out the semester on a high note with some fun and interaction along with a learning experience.  Enter “The Escape Room Game,” Gao’s  own creation of a project combining chemistry, team building, strategy planning and leadership.     

The Escape Room Game started with each student assigned to a team of four players. Gao hid the unknown compounds and reagents. Each group was assigned nine compounds. The students were charged with solving a series of puzzles and problems– mostly organic chemistry-related– to reveal clues which led them to the locations of all the materials they needed to complete an experiment. The teams had to work together to design their experiments so they could carry them out in the most efficient way to reveal the identities of the compounds in the shortest amount of time. Lastly, they had to unscramble the letters that represent the unknown compounds to reveal a final secret message. Then and only then were they able to escape the classroom.  

Rebecca Soares, a biology major, was on a team that came in second place.  She was nervous going into the experiment but felt confident that she and her teammates could solve the mystery. “Out of every lab I have taken here at Caldwell thus far, this experiment had to be my favorite. It involved two of my favorite things all in one–mysteries and a good competition!”  For Soares, the best part of the experiment was the mystery of it all. Being that it was timed made things exciting. “It posed an even bigger challenge fighting against not only our classmates but the clock, which made us work faster–and smarter– to beat the record time of classes before us.”  She learned that “no matter how you may perceive something going into it, it is not impossible and can be quite fun in the process.” 

Suzanne Hamzah, also a biology major, appreciated how much effort Dr. Gao put into  the project. “The best part about it was trying to figure out all the clues to try and beat the other teams.” She said the experiment helped her remember a good amount of the material. “I look forward to doing more of these hopefully next semester in Organic Chemistry II.” 

The winning team members received a trophy, and the other teams who solved the mystery were given certificates. They took Polaroid photos and pinned them on the chalkboard. 

“The students had a blast running this experiment,” said Gao.  “Everyone was so engaged. There were heated discussions, exciting cheers, a lot of scratching heads, a little bit of sabotaging and much laughter.”  

And what was the code to crack?  Well, of course, none other than: “Org chem rocks!”