Alfred Werner's Nobel prize address in 1913 offers a unique historical view on the development of coordination chemistry from the expert. With a bit of "translation" to modern terminology, this paper is very accessible to most students. Discussion of the address provides a useful introduction to coordination complexes including structure, isomers, and ligand substitution reactions. I find it interesting to mix in results from modern characterization techniques (for example, showing crystal structures of different hydrate isomers) while talking about how Werner might have characterized these compounds given the experimental tools of his time.
I typically use this as a first exposure to coordination chemistry in a sophomore-level inorganic chemistry course. We discuss this in conjunction with a lab experiment in which students carry out classic syntheses of cobalt Werner complexes, although we have not yet covered coordination chemistry at all in lecture.
Some or all of the discussion questions could be assigned for students to complete before or afterwards.
A guided discussion works well, particularly helping students translate historical terminology into modern language.
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