The Three M’s: Motivating, Modernizing, and MCAT

At most colleges and universities, students enrolled in organic chemistry come from a variety of majors and pre-professional programs. At St. Kate’s, the organic sections are a 20/20/40 split of chemistry, food & nutrition science, and biology majors. Twenty percent of our students are enrolled in organic in order to fulfill prerequisites for a variety of pre-professional programs and to prepare for the MCAT or PCAT. These diverse demographics require me to purposefully prepare a variety of examples that connect a student’s career interests to organic chemistry concepts. In my experience, the examples that students typically find the most engaging have biology roots or are pulled from the most recent chemistry and technology advances.

In the past, I have not had time to teach the biochemistry chapters that often appear at the end of organic textbooks. This changed, however, when I started using Karty’s book, because his text includes “Organic Chemistry of Biomolecules” sections that appear at the end of chapters. This makes the material more accessible time-wise and has the advantage of being taught immediately after the related chemical topics and mechanisms are discussed. Since St. Catherine’s now incorporates more biochemical topics in Organic I, my department has decided not to require Organic II as a prerequisite for Biochemistry. This has created room in dietetics students’ schedules because they no longer need Organic II to fulfill their department’s biochemistry requirements. This also fits better with the format of the MCAT 2015, because the chemistry on this exam focuses more on the chemical and physical foundations of biological systems.

In addition to addressing the biochemistry/MCAT issue, the “Organic Chemistry of Biomolecules” sections do an excellent job of engaging students with relevant examples that connect chemistry to their lives and/or future careers. Two of my favorite examples appear in the D/L classification and keto-enol chapters. The examples in these chapters provide dietetics, nutrition, and biology students a chance to apply chirality and mechanistic reactivity to molecules encountered in their major. At the same time, everyone gains a deeper understanding of the chemical concepts behind these phenomena.

Karty’s book also does a great job of relating chemistry to everyday life through the inclusion of applications boxes. One or two of these boxes are included in each chapter and explain not only why organic chemistry is interesting, but also why it is relevant. For instance, after students learn epoxidation mechanisms, an application box puts this chemistry into context by explaining how the epoxidation of compounds in cigarette smoke (Benzo[a]pyrenes) can eventually lead to cancer via DNA intercalation. At first glance, epoxidation may seem like a random organic chemistry mechanism with no biological significance, but this section does a good job at squashing this misperception and goes a long way towards motivating biology and pre-med students.

These applications boxes modernize the topics and go beyond teaching basic mechanisms and reactions. The inclusion of sections discussing carbon nanotubes, quantum teleportation using the Heisenberg uncertainty principal, and utilizing ionic liquids as solvents should motivate and engage students regardless of discipline. While I have seen excerpts on relating chemistry to everyday life in other textbooks, Karty’s examples are more modern and help my students understand why “they have to take” this course as well as the references in the most recent episode of the Big Bang Theory.

— James Wollack, St. Catherine University

James Wollack teaches at St. Catherine University and is currently class-testing the Preliminary Edition of Joel Karty’s forthcoming textbook. Click here to learn more about Prof. Wollack.

One comment on “The Three M’s: Motivating, Modernizing, and MCAT

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    May 26, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    Thanks for finally talking about >The Three M’s:
    Motivating, Modernizing, and MCAT | Teach the Mechanism <Liked it!

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