How to become a Chemist

Chemistry strikes the beginner always as a strange, somewhat alien discipline. At first glance, it is different from everything we studied in the lower grades - it is not another language (of which we know at last one!) - and at first glance we seem not to know what relation it has to our world.

 But if we are lucky and find a competent teacher (and a usable book) we will soon learn that chemistry has a most intimate relation to us. Let me quote here from an introduction to chemistry which I consider particularly useful:

“The modern human experience places a large emphasis upon the material world. From the day of our birth to the day we die, we are frequently preoccupied with the world around us. Whether struggling to feed ourselves, occupying ourselves with modern inventions, interacting with other people or animals, or simply meditating on the air we breathe, our attention is focused on different aspects of the material world. In fact only a handful of disciplines—certain subsets of religion, philosophy, and abstract math—can be considered completely unrelated to the material world. Everything else is somehow related to chemistry, the scientific discipline which studies the properties, composition, and transformation of matter.”[1]

The author of this text does have experience in first learning and then teaching Chemistry. He studied at the Universities of Innsbruck (Austria) and Regensburg (Germany) and has worked more than twenty years in the Pharmaceutical Industries of Germany and the USA. Since returning from the USA in 2013, he is active in private Teaching  at various Institutions in Bavaria and his own school. 

Apparently, a few years ago, a Chemistry crisis broke out in the Great Free State of Bavaria (!) and desperate parents called from left to right for Chemistry lessons for the results of their procreative efforts (offspring). Thus the author looked into the matter, that is, what books were used, and made an interesting observation:

It would appear that in the Great Free State of Bavaria (drum roll!) very fine Chemistry books are written by the best available, politically dependable and correct employees of the Ministry of Education that money can buy - but not by chemists respectively teachers who know to explain in a way the kids can understand.

From the very fine town of Augsburg, which looks back to a history of over 2000 years (15 BC to AD 2018) - albeit not, it seems, in teaching Chemistry - reached me a few years ago a distress call from the parents of the 9th Grade (14-15 year-olds) kids of a local Gymnasium (College Prep School). I went to inspect the situation.

One of the girs had kept an exceptional journal - notes on each and every lesson the class had in this first year of Chemistry, and it was suspenseful reading. The teacher instructed the pupils upon some of the most excruciating subjects on life upon this planet Earth - why it was important that the water be clean, why no nuclear stations are to be built, why only biologically grown food should be consumed and many more noble and certainly well-meant dogmata. He introduced the kids to equally interesting concepts they would meet in their study of chemistry later (probably in post-graduate work?) - catalysis, chromatography, spectroscopy, electrophoresis, colometry, microscopy, diffraction, thermogravimetric analysis - etc. etc.

I have used the word "suspenseful" above, for this continued the first 24 lessons. In lesson 25, the teacher showed mercy and brought up the question:

"What is an atom?"

Now I am not to challende that this is indeed a most significant question - particularly in Chemistry - but what had happened to the students meanwhile during the first twenty-four intergalactic lessons? The class had long ago decided that the teacher was a fool and Chemistry a bore and engaged during lesson times in many other more appealing activities.

As a result the teacher failed 10 of the 15 students (which in Germany means a 50% chance the student must repeat the whole school year). I doubt this methodology. I found out that the teacher had followed the book, which was written, apparently, by an activist for a better world (nothing wrong with that), but not by any person who either knew (1) teaching or (2) chemistry.

The ways of our attention and are learning techniques have changed in the digtal world and I had the idea to try to develop a Chemistry script that followed our more visual age and I took example on the writing of HTML (or CSS or whatever else for that matter) with modern editors, who highlight by colour and distinguish by structure.

Have a look and let me know what you think. Email: jvpalatine@gmail.com

 

[1]  https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/General_Chemistry/Introduction