Class name: “Chemical Dynamics”
Taught by: Professor of Chemistry Casey Londergan
Here’s what Londergan has to say about his course:
“Chemical Dynamics” is an introductory chemistry course that introduces students to the rules of thermodynamics and then uses them to explain and predict things at many levels, from systems as small as atoms and molecules to the entire planet. It starts with the basic idea of probability—that the more probable outcomes are the ones that tend to happen—and then expands to using energy and entropy to predict the outcomes and rates of chemical reactions and, ultimately, what makes the world work and behave the way it does. It also provides a stark and fundamental underpinning for understanding climate change and some possible strategies to combat it.
My department created this course as an alternative to more typical introductory chemistry classes, which tend to skip around between topics in a broad “survey” approach. We wanted a fundamentally correct, “building up” course that could directly address the most important problems that we as chemists, and citizens of the world, are facing. The laboratory for this course (coordinated by Kelly Matz) includes projects on biofuel synthesis, plastics identification, and hydrogen fuel cell construction, so the students also directly participate in some of the strategies and technology for changing how we handle energy and dealing with the consequences of how we currently depend on fossil fuels and their chemical products. By the end of this course, students should have a good idea of where the largest changes could originate in the future, and what sorts of strategies can make a large, world-scale difference in the future of the planet and our species. And it all comes down to using probability and two physical laws that have been known for over 200 years at this point.
This course has now been offered every year for the past 10 years and is a central and fundamental part of the curricular landscape at Haverford. In most years we have a total of about 120 students, mainly first-year students, taking some version of this course—there are three sections this spring, taught by myself, Jessica Stuart, and Kristina Streu—which serves as a prerequisite and central course for all pre-med students and essentially all chemistry and biology majors. Environmental studies students also often take this course as a “cognate course” in their minor or major programs. This course is, however, unique in the outside world: very few colleges or universities offer an introductory course that takes this “building up” approach to thermodynamics and its applications in the current world.
See what other courses the Department of Chemistry is offering this semester.
Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.