This is an activity designed to introduce general chemistry students to reading the chemistry literature by familiarizing them with the structure of a published article. The activity first presents an article from the Whitesides group at Harvard about writing a scientific manuscript, along with a video about the peer-review process. There are two parts to the questions in the activity, which are based on a specific article from Nature Communications (doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08824-8). Part I is focused on the structure of the article and where to find key pieces of information. Part II encourages students to use general audience summaries in combination with the original article to best understand the science while making sure they get a complete and accurate picture of the reported work.
A student should be able to approach the chemistry literature and determine where to find:
- the authors and their affiliations;
- the main objective of the research;
- the main outcomes of the research;
- why the research is important;
- experimental details;
- supplementary figures and other information.
A student should be able to broadly evaluate the reliability of secondary summaries of scientific articles by comparing them against the key points of the original paper.
This activity is based on a specific article: "Room temperature CO2 reduction to solid carbon species on liquid metals featuring atomically thin ceria interfaces" (Nat. Commun., 2019, 10, 865. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08824-8). However, it's easily adapted to other articles that are more suited to a particular course, and I've used other articles in previous iterations. This article was chosen because the content is at least partly accessible to students in my second semester general chemistry course, who have already had some electrochemistry/redox chemistry, and who have recently learned about kinetics, reaction mechanisms, and catalysis. The topic of liquid metals is new and interesting to the students, because it's not something the'd normally be exposed to, and the application to CO2 sequestration is something they can connect with.
I use this activity as a "badge," which is self-paced guided skill-building activity that students complete on their own time outside of class. Badges are designed around fundamental chemistry skills that students wouldn’t necessarily acquire from standard course content and lectures. They carry a very small point value (about 2% of the course total per badge) but my students are very motivated by even small amounts of points. I assign points primarily based on completion and effort and also provide brief written feedback for each student. I have my students turn in badges in Moodle, which makes feedback more streamlined.