The Impact of Chemical Science: Do Our Students Understand It?

The Impact of Chemical Science: Do Our Students Understand It? TA Evans - ‎197...

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The Impact of Chemical Science: Do Our Students Understand It? Thomas A. Evans Denison Uniuersity Granville, Ohio 43023 Chemicals are not innocent until provenguilty. Russell Peterson Council Environmental Quality 1976 Better things for better liuing, through chemistry. DuPont (1935to present) These two statements reflect some of the chanee and conflirt in our understanding of the impact of rhem&iscience. What doour students know of this'? How are we helnincl them? Former ACS President Bernard Friedman asked inYaneditorial ( I ) Will our studrnra lrnve schwl understandm8 the puwer, respmr~bility,andlimirnric,nsofsciencr-an insight t h e y will nerd to herome knowledgeable eitimns. voters, and puhlic ~rrvnntr"

Those of us who value liberal education must answer "Yes," however hopefully. Indeed, Dr. Friedman's query challenges every institution, regardless of its particular educational mission. The question is how to respond, for there are many challenges to what is done in a chemistry classroom. There is concern that chemical theorv has disnlaced imnortant elements of practicality and historical perspective in our students' experience. The lament: "Is AgCl a pale green gas?" has become a part of our vocabulary (2) and its implications a source of continuing dehate. For some there is concern that "Johnny (and Jane) can't write (technical reports)." Or put more broadly, the Ninth Biennial Education Conference of the ACS is reported to have reached consensus on at least one issue (3): "There's a need to adapt undergraduate studies to better prepare students for careers in ind;stry." Such adaptation is complicated by chemistry's role in society and the criticism it has received from, for example, Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner. Do we really serve our students best by developing them for a particular technical "slot"? Faced with conflicting priorities and evidence a t all levels of the debate, what are we to use as our guiding principles? One is suggested by a quote of Bertell Ollman in Robert Heilbroner's gloomy '%quiry into the Human Prospect" (4)

.. . as a factory for producing character (the family)is invariably a generation or more behind the times, producing people who, tomorrow, will be able to deal with yesterday's problems. Presented at the 52nd Two-Year College Chemistry Conference Penn Vallev Communitv Colleee. Kansas Citv. Missouri 64111. October 30,1976. 304 1 Journal of ChemicalEducathn

What of chemistrv. denartments? Are we a eeneration or . more behind:' Are we preparing our students for a future, aptly desrrihed bv A. Richard Turner. president of Grinnell C d lege?

.. . whether one broods darkly with the Club of Rome or more cheerfully with the Hudson Institute, we are all inagreement that an unheard of degree of interdependence, with everything canneeted to everything else, is the imperative for a dignified future. "Imoact of Chemical Science" (ICS) was nut into Denison's curric&um explore m&fully ihe Anneciions of chemistry and to eneouraee our students to take seriouslv their role as "citizen chemists." I t is a one-semester, 2-credit hour course for junior or senior chemistry majors. Students have the option of taking ICS or another 2-credit hour course, "Introduction to Research." The ICS course is a logical outgrowth of activities in the department. "Contemporary Chemistry" has been develoned for the nonscience student. Professor Gordon Galloway h& taught a highly successful "Science and Human Values" course for several years to interested students from all disciplines (5). While visiting Denison some time ago, Professor David Young of Maryville College pointed out the appropriateness of exploring the real world and its future with rhemistry students ( 6 ) ;we are just now responding. This is n report 1,f the first offering of ICS in the Fall of 1975. The cnurse will change in subsequent years, but the hnsic premise, that it is important tor scientists to explore systemnticnll.~the impact of their activities, todevelopa perspective ~. whichkxtends~heyondchemistry, seems secure. We set out to explore three questions


(1)What is chemical science? (2) What is society? (3) What is the impact of chemical science on soeiety?

Our resources consisted of hooks, offprints from Chemical and Engineering News, Science, and other journals, Denison facultv..and area scientists. The outside n. e o.~ l ewere imwrtant for several reasons: (1)they provided expertise that otherwise would have been missing, (2) the students learned of their positions directly from them rather than second hand, (3) I could see the nroeress . - the students were makina-bv.their interaction with the guests, and (4) students discovered there was a lot of chemistry going on around them in central Ohio. The concentual structure of the course was ~ r o v i d e dhv Thomas ~ u i n ' sdescription of science in "The structure df Scientific Revolutions" (7). . .. which was also used to develon an answer to the question: what is chemical science? ~ u h n ' s model of science allowed us to: (1) look at the historv of chemistry to test the model, (2) explore the nature of change in science.. (3) . . distineuish - between science and technolow. -.. and (4) distinguish between science and other activities. I t intro-