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Chemistry 115

CHEM 115
Chemistry of the Environment

Catalog Entry

CHEM 115. Chemistry of the Environment
Three hours lecture; three hours laboratory (4)

Prerequisites: none

The most fundamental concepts and techniques of chemistry will be presented by emphasizing the importance of chemistry in the understanding of environmental issues. This course has been approved for General Education credit-Physical and Natural Sciences. Credit will not be given for both CHEM 115 and CHEM 100. CHEM 101 and 102 are the prerequisites for all upper-level courses in chemistry.


Detailed Description of the Course

Major Topics to be considered:

  • History of Chemistry
  • The Scientific Method
  • Measurements and Units Commonly Used in Environmental Work
  • Structure, Properties, and States of Matter
  • Chemical Nomenclature and the Periodic Table
  • Chemical Bonding and Geometry
  • Stoichiometric Calculations
  • Solutions and Concentration Units Commonly Used in Environmental Work
  • Types of Chemical Reactions
  • Acids and Bases
  • Energy
  • Electromagnetic Radiation
  • Reaction Rates and Equilibrium
  • Nuclear Power Generation
  • Ethics in Science and Risk Assessment

These traditional topics will be woven into the discussion of the following environmental issues on a need-to-know basis.

  • Air Pollution; Photochemical Smog
  • Ozone Depletion
  • Global Warming
  • Thermal Pollution
  • Conservation of Resources; Recycling
  • Acid Rain
  • Alternative Energy Sources
  • Water Pollution
  • Solid Waste Disposal

Each semester there are fifteen three-hour laboratory sessions.

  • Out-of-lab Session: Chemistry Resources on the Internet
  • In-lab Experiments:
    • Measurement and Statistics
    • Types of Chemical Reactions
    • Separation Processes
    • Electromagnetic Spectrum
    • Composition of a Compound
    • Factors Which Affect Reaction Rates
    • Colloids
    • Preparation and Properties of Soap
    • Energy Content of Foods
    • Properties of Water
    • Measurement of pH
    • Analysis of Household Ammonia and a Commercial Antacid
    • Electrochemical Processes
    • Polymers and Recycling
    • Preparation of Aspirin
    • Possible Field Trips:
    • New River Resource Authority Landfill and the Peppers Ferry Wastewater Treatment
    • Plant Montgomery County Recycling Center


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The classroom component of the course is used to present basic concepts, discuss relevant issues that can be understood using these concepts, and to do problem solving. Although this course is not as mathematical as the traditional introductory courses, the development of logical solutions to complex problems, especially environmental problems, will be emphasized. Because some of the material used in the course will be controversial, classroom discussion is a major component of the learning process. The most important resource outside of the textbook is the Internet.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Upon completion of this course students will:

Specific Course Goals

  • have a greater appreciation for the contributions that science makes to society and for some of the problems it both creates and solves
  • understand some of the procedures and equipment used by chemists to obtain experimental data
  • understand the basic terminology used in chemistry
  • realize that the world around us is a laboratory and that discovery often involves seeing what others have seen but thinking what others have not thought
  • understand that scientific explanations of phenomena are not permanent and can change significantly as more data become available
  • recognize that there is an abundance of scientific information on the Internet but that, in some instances, it can represent one person’s opinion or untested results and is generally not as meaningful as results presented in the refereed scientific publications

Broad General Education Goals

  • be able to extend critical thinking skills to the analysis of emerging scientific issues
  • construct sound arguments in discussions regarding controversial scientific issues such as global warming
  • obtain an introduction to the research methods and styles of inquiry used by chemists
  • use the Internet to obtain information regarding both basic chemistry and environmental issues
  • work in small groups in the laboratory to solve problems experimentally
  • appreciate the magnitude of the ethical dilemmas which scientists, politicians, and industry leaders must address.

Goals for Area 7: Physical and Natural Sciences

  • understand the basic processes of science, particularly chemistry
  • understand some of the fundamental principles that underlie the study of chemistry
  • appreciate how chemical technology can both improve and deteriorate quality of life
  • utilize critical thinking skills to identify significant scientific problems, discuss them intelligently, and pose reasonable solutions to these problems
  • be able to perform scientific experiments, analyze data, and present experimental results clearly
  • recognize that progress in science depends upon careful experimentation, use of the scientific method, and a sharing of results and thoughts in the scientific literature


Assessment Measures

Assessment of a student’s performance in the course is based upon quizzes, tests, laboratory reports, homework, and a short term paper.

  • To assess the attainment of specific Area 7 goals, knowledge of chemistry concepts and problem solving techniques are important.
  • To assess the attainment of the broad general education goals, more qualitative essay type questions are utilized. Such questions can have a variety of correct answers; a logical approach to the problem and construction of a clear path to the solution are the key components in good answers to these questions.

As all of the assessment is planned and implemented, the faculty recognize that the overall objective of the course is not to produce professional chemists or practitioners of chemistry, but to make a contribution to the student’s understanding of important environmental issues.


Other Course Information

The instructor might elect to incorporate some of the following materials or activities into the course.

  • A set of six VCR tapes entitled “World of Chemistry” are utilized to enrich the material presented in the textbook.
  • Students are given a “tour” of the Department’s Chemical Instrumentation Laboratory so that they can observe science majors using state-of-the-art chemical instrumentation.
  • Newspaper and magazine articles relating to environmental problems are frequently distributed the class;
  • Computer tutorials that relate to some of the more challenging chemistry concepts are available in Curie Hall Computer Laboratory.
  • Students are made aware of the wealth of books and movies that relate to topics covered in the course (e.g. books like “Silent Spring’’ and “The Jungle” and movies like “Norma Rae”, “China Syndrome”, and Silkwood”).


Approval and Subsequent Review

Date Action Approved by
Reviewed September 28, 2005 – Walter S. Jaronski