- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A lack of relevance and boring subject matter can combine for some high school students to make chemistry one of the more difficult classes to master. Hoping to make studying the discipline a bit more palatable, two friends, who just happen to be veteran research scientists and educators, got together five years ago and developed a Web site that continues to thrive by exploring real chemistry case studies.

Chem Cases

Site address: www.chemcases.com

Creator: The Chem Cases case-study curriculum was conceived and developed at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., by Matthew Hermes and Laurence I. Peterson, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, with financial support from the National Science Foundation.

Creator quotable: “We created [this site] because we believed the excitement of chemistry that we experienced throughout our careers could be best brought into the classroom through case studies of well-known products. If we chose these judiciously, the case studies could touch upon all of the topics that chemical educators generally agreed were important in an introductory college chemistry course,” Mr. Peterson says.

Word from the Webwise: The site presents 12 instructional units, much like one would find in a classroom textbook, that clearly demonstrate how chemistry has affected every part of our lives, including such topics as thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, intermolecular properties and equilibrium reactions.

The units range from how Gatorade changed sports physiology to the use of silicones in medical implants to the evolution of refrigerant gases to the role of organic chemists in the creation of Nutrasweet.

Each unit provides an overwhelming amount of text; illustrations and charts that can be accessed via links; a pedagogical concept map; and side menus that will immerse a student in a topic, starting with basic theory and leading to chemical deconstruction, practical application and even evaluating long-term, real-world challenges.

For example, a look at the Alcohol and You unit offers a 14-point comprehensive analysis of the organic chemical compound ethylene and why imbibing a fermented version of it can lead to various medical problems.

Students get a look at how the chemical is absorbed in the bloodstream, how it is metabolized and which organs are affected when it is consumed. Multisyllabic words such as aliphatic compounds, lipoproteins, neuroadaptation, and a look at Fink’s Law — which refers to the principles of diffusion — could perplex the casual science lover but make more sense to the student studying for a test.

The alcohol unit continues its knowledge overload by explaining the science behind addiction in relation to the brain and concludes with a reinforcement of what was learned through a fictional study of three individuals and their bouts with alcoholism.

Ease of use: A very text-heavy, straightforward design with just a touch of simple JavaScript should allow the site to be viewed on all browsers and computers systems at any speed.

Don’t miss: Being a potato chip lover, I enjoyed reading about the chemistry of Olestra, a synthetic oil that replaces fats in fried snack foods, greatly reducing their calories per serving. The instructional unit follows Olestra’s discovery by Procter & Gamble scientists Fred Mattson and Robert Volpenhein in the 1990s and traces the additive through rigorous tests by the Food and Drug Administration to its current controversy because of the gastrointestinal distress experienced by some persons who eat products fried in it.

Elements on the horizon: Visitors should expect an update in the cisplatin unit, which will cover changes in the world of anti-cancer drugs.

Comprehension level: “Although designed for college-level students, the scientific language employed in ChemCases can be understood by high school students taking a chemistry course and by an educated public audience interested in learning more about the world of chemistry surrounding them,” Mr. Peterson says.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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