Field of Science

Replacing the Blackboard: Using Mathematica to Teach Modern Chemical Kinetics

In a talk I gave today at the American Chemical Society fall national meeting, I argued that moving the teaching of physical chemistry beyond what can be done on the blackboard or with pencil and paper can alter not only course pedagogy, but profoundly change course content. Analytical solutions to the differential rate equations often receive the bulk of the attention in an introductory physical chemistry course. Does this reflect the current practice in the field? Should this be the emphasis students take away? I think not. In response I developed a Mathematica based document for teaching chemical kinetics which builds on the traditional framework of analytical solutions, but develops numerical methods in concert, rather than as a special topic and shows how these numerical methods can be used to explore more exotic reactions, such as those that oscillate, or even exhibit chaotic behaviors.

Resources mentioned in the talk, which I promised to post here are:

  • POGIL:Physical Chemistry: A Guided Inquiry: Atoms, Molecules, and Spectroscopy, R. S. Moog, J. N. Spencer, J. J. Farrell; Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2004.
  • Physical Chemistry Online: Chem. Educator, 5 77-82 (2000) Deborah Sauder,* Marcy Towns, Betty Derrick, Alexander Grushow, Michael Kahlow, George Long, Danny Miles, George Shalhoub, Roland Stout, Michael Vaksman, William F. Pfeiffer, Gabriela Weaver, and Theresa Julia Zielinski
  • Physical Chemistry in Context
  • SymMath archive at Journal of Chemical Education
    Physical Chemistry, Metiu


  1. Good to see you back from vacation.

  2. Thanks, it's nice to be missed. It's great to be back - in more ways than one! I'm teaching after a year's leave and am delighted to be back in the classroom, too!


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