Principles of Chemical Science Video Lectures From MIT

How were elementary particles such as the electron and the proton discovered? What decides how fast a chemical reaction happens and if it can happen in the first place? What does it mean to say that photons and electrons have both properties that are traditionally thought of as associated with matter and waves? What are orbitals and why do electrons not just crash into the nucleus? What is the difference between a covalent and ionic bond? What about polar covalent bonds? What happens when you disrupt a chemical equilibrium? What are some enzyme catalysts that are involved in biological processes and how do they work?

These and many other interesting chemistry questions are addressed in an MIT course called Principles of Chemical Science that was taught in the fall of 2008 by Catherine L. Drennan and Elizabeth Vogel Taylor. The course generated a total of 36 video lectures that were put on the MIT OpenCourseWare Youtube channel the next year. The entire playlist can be found here. The video lectures are also available at the course website. In total, they span roughly 24 hours and cover material on quantum mechanics, orbital theory, periodic trends, entropy, chemical equilibrium, acid-base titrations, redox reactions, rates laws and applications in biology, nuclear chemistry and biochemistry.

A lot of chemistry seems difficult and complex at first, but the more you expose yourself to the material, the easier it will seem. Chemistry is vital to many aspects of our existence. It is involved in the food you eat, the production of new medications, water treatment plants, atmospheric processes, enzymes in the human body and so on. It also connects related areas such as physics and biology and provides a useful framework for understanding crucial challenges we face in our modern world.

Having a basic understanding of modern chemistry is also crucial to be an effective debunker of pseudoscience. So many forms of pseudoscience rely on false claims about various aspects of chemistry, including fearmongering about “chemicals”, the relationship between dose and response, the intellectual emptiness of homeopathy and many other subjects. Thus, having a working knowledge of chemical principles is a useful part of the toolbox of scientific skepticism.

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Lecture 01: The Importance of Chemical Principles

This first lecture goes into some detail about the different areas of chemistry and provides a myriad of examples of how knowledge of chemistry comes into many different careers and career pathways.

Lecture 02: Discovery of Electron and Nucleus

Provides a brief overview and historical context to the discovery of electrons and the components of the atomic nucleus, as well as an explanation for why quantum mechanics is relevant for chemistry.

Lecture 03: Wave-Particle Duality of Light

Investigates the question of what it actually means to say that light has some properties that have been traditionally associated with waves and some that have been traditionally associated with particles. How does interference work?

Lecture 04: Wave-Particle Duality of Matter

How does the photoelectric effect work? What does it mean to say that matter particles have a wavelength?

Lecture 05: Hydrogen Atom Energy Levels

Focuses on applying the insights of quantum mechanics to the hydrogen atom.

Lecture 06: Hydrogen Atom Wavefunctions

This lectures goes into more detail about different quantum numbers and the physical interpretation of the square of the wave function.

Lecture 07: P-Orbitals

Covers s and p orbitals, as well as the fourth quantum number.

Lecture 08: Multielectron Atoms and Electron Configurations

So far they have talked about the hydrogen atom. But what happens when we move on to atoms that have more than one atom? Why is this so much harder and how do you make progress?

Lecture 09: Periodic Trends

Chemical elements in the same group or the same period behaves similarly or has a predictable change as you move down a group or across a period. This lecture provides the quantum chemical details to why this is the case.

Lecture 10: Covalent Bonds

What are covalent bonds and why is the sharing of electrons not always equal? Why are some covalent bonds stronger than others?

Lecture 11: Lewis Structures

What is a Lewis structure and what are the eight steps to drawing one? What can it be used for?

Lecture 12: Ionic Bonds

How do chemists do math on ionic bonds? How are they different from covalent bonds?

Lecture 13: Polar Covalent Bonds and VSEPR Theory

VSEPR theory unites insights from Lewis structure with quantum mechanics to patch some of the problems in the previous method. Polar covalent bonds are the middle ground between covalent and ion bonds. How does that work out?

Lecture 14: Molecular Orbital Theory

Orbits were simple when it was just a single atom. But what goes on with orbitals when you have a molecule?

Lecture 15: Valence Bond Theory and Hybridization

What are sigma and pi bonds? How does all of this affect the angle between bonds and free electron pairs?

Lecture 16: Thermochemistry

When chemical bonds form and break, energy is either released or absorbed from the surrounding. How does this allow us to find out the heat energy produced by oxidizing glucose?

Lecture 17: Entropy and Disorder

What is entropy and how does it play into chemistry?

Lecture 18: Free Energy and Control of Spontaneity

This lecture goes into some detail about how to find out if a chemical reaction can occur spontaneously or not.

Lecture 19: Chemical Equilibrium

A chemical equilibrium might seem like a situation where nothing happens, but there is really a lot of things going on. What does the constant k mean?

Lecture 20: Le Chatelier’s Principle

Some things can upset a chemical equilibrium. What then happens is highly interesting. The system attempts to restore itself.

Lecture 21: Acid-Base Equilibrium

Acid and bases can steal or donate electrons. Are there more general versions of these abilities and how do you calculate pH? What does the corresponding pOH mean?

Lecture 22: Chemical and Biological Buffers

What does it mean for an acid or base to be weak or strong? How do buffers work and what are some biological examples?

Lecture 23: Acid-Base Titrations

This lecture shows you how to use titrations to find concentration or molecular weights. They are sometimes cumbersome, but this will help you do those problems with more confidence.

Lecture 24: Balancing Redox Equations

A redox reaction consists of an oxidizer and a reducer that interact. How do you balance these equations using nothing but redox numbers?

Lecture 25: Electrochemical Cells

How do electrochemical cells work and what is the chemistry and math behind them?

Lecture 26: Chemical and Biological Redox Reactions

This lecture finishes up the material on redox reactions and considers some biological examples.

Lecture 27: Transition Metals

What are transitional metals and what role do they play in human health risks? This lecture includes references to vampire movies.

Lecture 28: Crystal Field Theory

Crystal field theory can be used to predict many chemical and physical properties of some forms of matter. But how does it work and what are its limitations?

Lecture 29: Metals in Biology

Why should we care about geometry when looking at proteins in biological organisms that have metal cofactors?

Lecture 30: Magnetism and Spectrochemical Theory

This video lecture covers how the oxidation state and liganded state determines the color of molecules. This is the final lecture on transition metals.

Lecture 31: Rate Laws

Chemical reactions happen at different speeds and this can depend on concentration. These are governed by different rate laws.

Lecture 32: Nuclear Chemistry and Elementary Reactions

This lecture finishes up kinetics and covers radioactivity and different forms of radioactive decays.

Lecture 33: Reaction Mechanism

Experimental data related to rate laws are often highly useful for coming up with a reaction mechanisms that work. This lecture shows you how to test specific reaction mechanisms against empirical data.

Lecture 34: Temperature and Kinetics

How does temperature influence the rate at which reactions happen?

Lecture 35: Enzyme Catalysis

Enzymes are biological molecules that make certain reactions go faster. These are highly important in biological systems. How do these work mechanistically?

Lecture 36: Biochemistry

The final lecture reviews and connects knowledge of basic chemistry with direct biological and biochemical applications in the human body.

These video lectures provide a great introductory survey of the facts and applications of modern chemistry and its many diverse fields. The website also has a set of three exams that you can use to see if you have accurately mastered the material or not. One might argue that it is not needed to grasp university-level chemistry to debunk pseudosciences that are as ridiculously ignorant as homeopathy, but anti-science efforts are getting increasingly more complex and convoluted. More scientific knowledge will help one rise to the challenge in the current misinformation wars.

Emil Karlsson

Debunker of pseudoscience.

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