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The World of Chemistry Videotape Series.

The World of Chemistry videotape series, Magic Lantern Communications Ltd., Oakville, Ont.

Chemistry is a subject rich in imagery and concepts. Yet we teach it by means of words and formulas. Apart from demonstrations, the main visual resources have been the Chem Study and British Open University series of films and videotapes. The Chem Study videos are useful, but dull, and they reinforce the image that chemistry is something performed only in chemistry laboratories. The open university videos such as The Elements Organized and the more specialized Anions of the Alkali Metals show the tremendous possibilities of visual aids to chemistry teaching. Unfortunately, only a limited number of the series are available in North America.

At last this deficiency of visual aids has been remedied! The World of Chemistry project is a 26-part series of 30-minute videotapes designed for the non-science major. Funding for this opulent series was provided by the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with support from the American Chemical Society and numerous industrial chemical corporations such as Dow, Kodak and Exxon. The production of these programmes is described by Margot Schumm elsewhere in this issue, but the clear aim was to give a comprehensive overview of chemistry to a non-science student. To accompany the videos, there is a text, a study guide, a laboratory manual and a faculty telecourse manual.

All of the videos commence and end with some comments by the Nobel laureate, Roald Hoffmann. Each video emphasizes a particular concept, and following a description of the concept, the applications to everyday life and to chemical industry are discussed. In addition, each programme includes at least one section of experimental work by Donald Showalter. The videos are intensely visual in content and avoid the common problem with videos of the 'talking head' syndrome. Some series parts have historical vignettes and interviews.

The content of each programme is as follows:

1. The World of Chemistry: The ubiquitousness of chemistry and the underlying molecular structure of matter. Chemistry as the central science. The chemistry of flavours, fragrances and beauty products. The chemical industry as a means of transforming matter. Chemistry as making things and discovering nature.

2. Colour: The colourful world we live in. How colour is valued by primitive societies. The work of Perkin as the origin of the modern dye industry. Applications of staining techniques in biochemistry. The work of J. Barton on bonding ruthenium complexes to DNA using fluorescence techniques.

3. Measurement: Measurement in every aspect of our lives. The standard kilogram at the National Bureau of Standards. The determination of mercury concentration using a visible spectrophotometer. The difference between accuracy and precision.

4. Modelling the Unseen: The black box experiment. Modelling the properties of Jupiter's moon, Io. The use of gases to develop the kinetic-molecular theory of matter. Using computer generated molecular models in drug research (the lock and key concept).

5. A Matter of State: The properties of a gas. The use of liquefaction for storing natural gas. The beauty of crystals and the properties of solids.

6. The Atom: Dalton and simple atomic theory. An account of seeing' atoms for the first time with a scanning tunneling microscope. Static electricity. Cathode rays. The Rutherford gold foil experiment. The probability model of the atom (s-clouds and p-clouds). Atomic emission spectroscopy for determining trace element levels, such as selenium deficiency and lead toxicity.

7. The Periodic Table: Periods and Groups. Using the Periodic Table to select alternate alkali metal ions to produce different types of glasses. The trends in reactivity of alkali metals toward water. An account by Seaborg of how he proposed (against strong opposition) that elements 90 to 92 represented the start of an analogous series to the lanthanons. The relation of Period to orbital filling. The use of X-ray fluorescence techniques in art history research.

8. Chemical Bonds: The formation of ionic bonds. Conductivity of salts, both molten and in solution. Salt and its importance to human life. Covalent bonding. Explosives based on the formation of the nitrogen triple bond. Nitrogen fixation.

9. Molecular Architecture: Double and single bonds. Saturated and unsaturated fats. Explaining the difference in terms of sigma and pi bonds. Cis and trans isomers. Optical isomerism and the rotation of plane polarized light. The selectivity of isomeric forms as drugs. Racemisation as a means of dating fossils.

10. Signals from Within: Electromagnetic radiation. Sunscreens and ultra-violet spectroscopy. Molecular vibrations. Infra-red spectroscopy as a means of illegal drug identification. Identifying insect pheromones by the same technique.

11. The Mole: Berzelius and atomic masses. Avogadro's hypothesis and the coin analogy. The mole and molar masses. Making intravenous solutions on the industrial scale and their analysis using volumetric techniques. Limiting reagents. Using mole calculations in epoxy resin manufacture.

12. Water: Hydrogen bonds. Bacteria addition to cause crystallization. Formation of aqueous solutions of ionic and covalent substances. Watersoluble polymers. The treatment of waste water.

13. The Driving Force: Exothermic and endothermic reactions. Energy and entropy as driving forces. Conservation of energy in industrial processes. The rate of a chemical reaction. Production of concrete. Catalysis. Food spoilage and preservation.

14. Molecules in Action: Molecular collisions as the cause of chemical reactions. The activated complex. Collision theory. Effects of temperature and a catalyst on the activation energy. Catalysis in industry. Equilibrium. Le Chatelier's Principle. Ammonia synthesis.

15. The Busy Electron: Rusting. Factors affecting corrosion. Batteries. Electrochemical cells. Electrode processes. The development of the lithium battery for heart pacemakers. Lead storage batteries. Electroplating. Electrolysis of water. Solar cells.

16. The Proton in Chemistry: Acids and bases as major industrial chemicals. Reactions of acids and bases. Neutralization reactions. Acid deposition (acid rain). Effect on lake waters. The hydronium and hydroxide ions. The pH scale. Stomach acid and the digestion process. Antacids.

17. The Precious Envelope: Components of the atmosphere. The ozone layer. The effect of CFCS. The chain reactions in the upper atmosphere. The origins of our atmosphere. Origins of life. Techniques to determine past climates. The hydrologic cycle. Photosynthesis. The carbon dioxide cycle.

18. The Chemistry of the Earth: The early history of the earth. Formation of ore deposits. Cave formation. Silicates. Zone refining.

19. Metals: The thermite reaction. Crystal packing. Accounting for the properties of metals. Smelting of metals. Reduction of oxides. Steel manufacture. Aluminum manufacture. Alloys and super-alloys.

20. On the Surface: Surface tension. Detergents. Surfactants for the enhancement of oil recovery. Adhesives. Composite materials. Reactions on the surface of a catalyst. Electron microscopy. The acrylonitrile synthesis. Molecular sieves. Methanol to gasoline conversion.

21. Carbon: Wohler's experiment. Types of carbon-carbon bonds. Structural isomers. Functional groups: alcohols, carboxylic acids, and esters. Flavourings. Laboratory synthesis of aspirin. Natural products chemistry. Industrial synthesis of aspirin.

22. The Age of Polymers: Synthetic and naturally occurring polymers. The fractionation of oil. Free radical polymerization. High- and low-density polyethylene. PET in bottle manufacture. Polystyrene. Polyacrylonitrile and polyacetylene. Future applications of polymers.

23. Proteins: Structure and Function: Amino acids. Peptide formation and the primary structure of proteins. Hydrogen bonding and the secondary structure of proteins. An interview with Pauling on the discovery of the alpha helix. The permanent waving of hair. Enzymes and their structure. The tertiary level of structure: helices and beta sheets. Active sites. Enzyme blockers and the treatment of heart attacks.

24. The Genetic Code: Hemoglobin and oxygen binding. Sickle cell anemia. Genes as biopolymers. Nitrogen bases and DNA. RNA. Recombinant DNA technology.

25. Chemistry and the Environment: Recycling. The natural cycle of life. The cases of DDT and PCBS. The clean-up of toxic waste dumps. The concepts of real and apparent risk. The methods of treating toxic waste. Waste management techniques in the modern chemical industry.

26. Futures: Interviews on the future directions of chemical research. Does this series accomplish its goal? The answer is certainly yes'. Each video is packed with material that makes chemistry alive and interesting. In fact, we should stop and consider how concept-rich chemistry really is. It is worth emphasizing that a course based on this material will not be a trivial 'easy credit' course. To have a reasonable qualitative understanding of the topics discussed in this course will require considerable effort on the part of a student. The student who succeeds in such a course will go out into the world with a good grasp of the purpose and nature of chemistry.

Although the programmes are aimed at the non-science student, every chemistry student would benefit from this broad overview of what chemistry is about - a topic that we often overlook in our teaching. In particular, some of the later programmes can be blended into a traditional mainstream chemistry course.

Obviously, nothing is perfect and this reviewer would be remiss in not identifying some specific concerns. For example, Showalter is a good demonstrator, but his voice always sounds as if he is addressing a kindergarten class. There is a noticeable shortage of female participants except as interviewees, such as Jacqueline Barton.

On the topic of interviewees, a few individuals have difficulty in reducing their discussion to basic terminology and they introduce such unexplained terms as "ligands' and 'homogeneous catalysis'.

On occasion, chemical equations appear on the screen when demonstrations are being performed. This is more distracting than useful, and it assumes familiarity with the concept of formulas and equations at that point. In fact, the series would be enhanced by a programme dealing specifically with the topic of the formula of a chemical compound and the way in which chemical equations are constructed.

It is pleasing to see that the Sl and IUPAC terminology are used throughout. Only rarely are there slips, such as a compound 'having a molecular mass of x grams per mole'. Also, the term'actinide'is used instead of the preferred actinon'. Finally, a personal wish is that any future revision would mention the role of Julia Hall in the discovery of the electrolytic extraction of aluminum by Charles Hall.

As a spin-off, 15-minute segments are available for the supplementation of high-school chemistry courses. These segments have the homilies of Roald Hoffman deleted, but some additional demonstrations by Paula Herron added. In fact, the high-school version is a significant improvement in terms of inclusion of female and minority scientists. To educate future generations about chemistry, all school boards in Canada should be encouraged to obtain a set of these programmes for their chemistry courses. Such a knowledge should go far to combatting the pervasive chemophobia in North American society.

The World of Chemistry videotapes, both the college and high-school versions, and the faculty guide are available in Canada from: Magic Lantern Communications Ltd., 775 Pacific Road, Unit #38, Oakville, Ont. L6L 6M4. The other print materials, the World of Chemistry Text by Joesten et al. (ISBN 0-03-0-30167-X); the study guide by Castellan, Ben-Zvi, and Alder (ISBN 0-03-0-30172-6); and the laboratory manual adapted by Ben-Zvi and Alder (ISBN 0-03-0-30168-8) are obtainable in Canada from Holt, Rinehart and
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rayner-Canham, Geoff
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Audiovisual Review
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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