Field of Science

Walking the tightrope: finding the timeless fundamentals in the context of modern physical chemistry

Today was a busy day, I gave another talk at the American Chemical Society meeting. This talk highlighted the ever present tensions in the physical chemistry curriculum between the expanding scope of modern physical chemistry and the timeless fundamentals. It was well summed up by one of my predecessors at Bryn Mawr - in 1913:

“The contributions to knowledge in the domain of physical chemistry have increased with such rapidity within recent years that the prospective author of a general textbook finds himself confronted with the vexing problem of what to omit rather than what to include.” - Frederick H. Getman, 1913

Can the curriculum be updated to include modern examples without compromising the basics? The NSF grant mentioned in my profile is for a new set of materials for teaching introductory physical chemistry that tries to bridge this gap. The materials draw from the recent primary research literature to illustrate key principles in multidisciplinary contexts. For example, the kinetics of first order reactions, illustrated in many current texts by a paper from 1921 reporting the rate of decomposition of gaseous N2O5, can be covered instead by following the racemization of amino acids used in the last decade to date archeological samples.

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

Talk less, they learn more

  • Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. [Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1987, Winter). Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18]
  • The importance of lecture in general-chemistry course performance [Birk, J.P., Foster, J. (1993) J Chem Ed 70 179]
  • Departing from Lectures: An Evaluation of a Peer-Led Guided Inquiry Alternative [Lewis, S.E., Lewis, J.E. (2005) J Chem Ed 82 135]
  • From Traditional to Radical [J. N. Spencer, Thought and Action, The NEA Higher Education Journal, XVII, No. 2 Winter 2001-2002]
  • A Guided Inquiry Chemistry Course [J. J. Farrell, R. S. Moog, J. N. Spencer, J. Chem. Educ. 1999, 76, 570-574

Do less, they learn more

  • Effects of lecture information density on medical student achievement [Russell. I.J., Hendricson, W.D., & Herbert, R.J. (November, 1984). Journal of Medical Education, 59, 881-889]

Other resources:

  • 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

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