Rarely are real-world applications of chemistry emphasized enough in the mainstream organic chemistry course. This can explain why students tend to view chemistry as structures on the page or as schemes drawn on the white board. A strictly two-dimensional discussion of chemistry can be one of the reasons that students struggle to connect what they learn in the classroom to what they experience out in the world. This led me to use my research background to complement the helpful connections that are referenced throughout the Karty text with some of my own.
Interweaving real-life examples into the organic content discussed in lecture can most easily be done through Karty’s Connections boxes. Although students may initially be wary of the “extra” reading material in the margins, they quickly find value in learning how relevant chemistry is to our everyday lives. Some examples from Interchapter A (Nomenclature) that I like to mention in class include: alkyl halides, like bromomethane, which were used in pesticides before we knew of their harmful effects on the environment (page 56); halogens, like Freon 142b, which contain chlorine and fluorine atoms that are primarily used for refrigeration purposes (page 57); and ethers, which are typically used in the clinical field (page 67).
Further on the topic of nomenclature, which can often be overlooked because it is perceived as being too “boring” or “low level,” many of my students ask me why there is a difference between IUPAC and common (or trivial) naming. I often reply with the statement, “It’s all in who’s using the terms.” Industrial chemists and technical scientists use common (or trivial) naming to communicate with each other. IUPAC, on the other hand, is used more in academia or university research labs. I tie this idea back to my own life to make this distinction more concrete for my students. For instance, I have a professional name of Dr. Kerri Taylor, but I also have a common name of Mom; I have and use both names. Thus, I can ask students to identify a molecule both ways, similar to the way that chemists in different settings are expected to switch between the two depending on what makes the most sense to use for their particular work.
Functional groups are another topic that students can initially struggle to form connections to; however, when we integrate them with our daily experiences, students have an easier time pushing these concepts from their short-term to long-term memory. For example, I like to tell my students that they can associate various types of alcohols with antiseptics, and thiols with skunk odors and the Old Faithful geyser in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. I also remind students that esters are commonly integrated into chemical structures to create fragrant perfumes and colognes. Additionally, carbonyl derivatives are commonly integrated into soaps and detergents, which contain a polar functional group with a nonpolar tail; carboxylic acids and amides are ubiquitously found in biochemistry and metabolic functions; and amines are found in cleaning and household products. All of these examples demonstrate that there are so many different ways that chemistry shows up in our everyday lives, which is exactly the point that I want to make to my students!
I’ve found that real-life applications are so valuable for student success and engagement in the classroom. This is why I love to sprinkle in as many connections as I can throughout lecture so I can reinforce the notion that chemistry is all around us. Not only does this help my students approach the course material with greater anticipation as they learn new topics, but they also find deeper personal meaning in relating these ideas back to their own interests and activities.
-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University
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