Elements, like iron, and alloys, like bronze, have entire “ages” name after them. Students read accounts of how elements and molecules have affected the course of civilization from ancient to current times. Students may be familiar with notorious elements like uranium and plutonium and their impact on world events, but how did tin change the course of history? Moving quickly from elements to molecules, the course looks at some of the roles molecules have played in colonization, health, environment, lifestyle, and so forth. The emphasis is not on the history of molecules, but rather molecules in history. As students explore these interesting histories, they pull in a few of the relevant scientific observations and molecular structures that give rise to the important characteristics of particular “world rocking” molecules. This course is centered on outside reading and class discussion with the addition of some short basic lectures on fundamental chemistry to provide context. The plan for 2017 includes Uranium (energy and weapons), Salt (food preservation and conquest), Nitrogen (food production and explosives), Water (clean drinking and infrastructure), Ethanol (from fermentation and distillation to use and abuse), and Progesterone (birth control and women's rights). Students who successfully complete this seminar will satisfy the Scientific Perspective core requirement.
Jason Keith is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Colgate University. His research is based on the application of Density Functional Theory to various projects involving electronic structure, spectroscopy and mechanism. His primary research efforts focus on transition metal systems. While his research frequently focuses on fundamental concepts such as bonding, applied projects in his group are more commonplace and are often related to clean energy and the environment.