13 Jan 2009

Contemporary Inorganic Chemists

Literature Discussion

Submitted by Elizabeth Jamieson, Smith College
This is an assignment I use to give students a sense of what kinds of problems real life, contemporary inorganic chemists work on.  I start out by having them find 2 contemporary inorganic chemists.  They give a 15-20 min presentation on their two chemists that gives a general overview of their research projects.  Once everyone has done their general presentation, I have students choose a specific journal article by one of their chemists to present in class.  I usually have this assignment run throughout the semester, with the general presentations taking place in the first half of the semester, followed by the journal articles done in the second half.  
Learning Goals: 
The main learning goal is for students to gain a sense of current research in the various sub-disciplines of inorganic chemistry.  They also get a chance to refine their presentation skills and learn how to read/discuss journal articles.  
Implementation Notes: 
It helps to have students give a list of 3-4 chemists they'd like to do early on in the assignment.  That way you can arrange the lists to make sure that nobody is doing the same chemist and that you get a good representation of different sub-fields of inorganic chemistry.  
Evaluation Methods: 
I grade the presentations given in class.  I normally break the grades down into "content" and "presentation-style" categories to give students feedback in each area.  I also give students credit when they are not presenting for participating in discussions and asking questions.  I have thought about having students write reviews of each others presentations, but haven't actually done it in class yet.  
Evaluation Results: 
Normally students do very well on the general, overview presentations.  I often have to work with students on the journal articles to find ones they can understand well enough to present in class.  However, once we've found the right article, students generally tend to do well on these presentations as well.  I think by the end they have gained an appreciation for the varied kinds of research inorganic chemists do.
Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence


This looks like a great assignment.  I like how it allows the student to do some "easy research" first (web browsing, followed by a general overview talk) followed by a more thorough presentation on a single paper.  One question I have is, how do you actually run the presentations.  In a class of 15-20, I would imagine that even doing 3 per day once per week would take most of the semester.  I have a small class this year, and was looking for some new ways to approach the primary literature, so I am thinking about using this activity in a class of 12 students.  One thing I will probably change is that I will have the 2nd assignment be written instead of oral.


Last spring I had 9 students in the class, with 80 min classes 3 times/week (MWF).  We did the overview talks over 3 class periods.  This was done in early March (before Spring break).  I spread out the journal article talks over 5 class periods.  I started that in April - and had them mostly on Fridays.  It seemed to work well to have 2 days of "normal" class and have Fridays be our "lit discussion" days.  It certainly would be harder with a larger class.  One thing I have done with different assignments in some of my other larger classes to save class time is to have students write a paper and then do a class poster session.  I divide them into 2 groups.  Each group presents for half the class period.  When they're not presenting, they need to visit other student's posters and write summaries or reviews.  It's been a good way to get students to present what they've written to others without having lots of short, in-class, oral presentations.

Sounds like a great way to address the primary literature. I have a small (5 this year) advanced inorganic course where I am doing something similar this year. 

Throughout the semester, I will hand out papers (chosen by me) to one student and have them present a summary, describe the concepts, and how they relate to course content. At the end of the semester, they get a list of inorganic chemists, and choose one as their author of choice. They are then asked to search the primary literature, and present a (slightly) more formal talk in the evening doing a similar job.

I think this works fairly well for smaller class sizes, but might have some problems for larger class sizes (especially at the start of the term, before they have a chance to get into the "meat" of the course). It also likely helps that I have 80 minute lectures as well.


I will be teaching an Advanced Inorganic Chemistry course with 13 students and will use this idea for my class. I love it!

 Sibrina Collins, PhD College of Wooster

not entirely the same, but a related activity is the "diversity in chemistry" activity I've done from time to time.  This one focuses less on the interesting problems that chemists work on and more on the life and times aspect of trying to do science while not being a member of the white male establishment.  Anyway, here it is:  https://www.ionicviper.org/problem-set/diversity-chemistry

The VIPEr community supports respectful and voluntary sharing. Click here for a description of our default Creative Commons license.