CHEM 410



CHEM 410 has a limited enrollment. If you wish to take this course, you are advised to register early.

Course Description

CHEM 410 (HISTORY OF CHEMISTRY) is a 3-hour course. It is a survey of the development of chemistry.  This section focuses on the historical development of physical chemistry as a discipline, particularly in the United States, from the late 1880s to the 1950s and 1960s. The course emphasizes the personalities and interactions that accompanied the development and spread of physical chemistry in the United States at a time when scientific study was being incorporated into academic life of universities that were developing rapidly.  This class is intended to contribute to the liberal arts education of students (mission 3) and increase general literacy with respect to the origin of the subject (General Education Goal #2). The course is a second-writing course, so you learn about communication through writing, as well as through communication in class. (10)

PREREQUISITE: General Chemistry.

Course Venue

Tuesdays and Thursdays
8:00 – 9:15 a.m.                                  By ZOOM


Cecil Dybowski

 035 Brown Laboratory

 (302) 831-2726

Office Hours:  Any time, if available


K. J. Laidler, The World of Physical Chemistry, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993.
J. W. Servos, Physical Chemistry from Ostwald to Pauling, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1990.

Other Interesting Books

Diana Kormos Barkan, Walther Nernst and the Transition to Modern Physical Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999.
Cathy Cobb, Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks: The Spirited History of Physical Chemistry, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2002.
Patrick Coffey, Cathedrals of Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.
Andrew Ede, The Rise and Decline of Colloid Science in North America, 1900 – 1935, Ashgate Publishers, Burlington, Vermont, 2007.
Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999.
Istvan Hargittai, The Road to Stockholm, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.
Aaron J. Ihde, The Development of Modern Chemistry, Dover, New York, 1984.
Stephen Inwood, The Forgotten Genius: The Biography of Robert Hooke 1635 – 1703, MacAdam/Cage Press, San Francisco, 2003.
Laylin K. James, Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1901 –1992, American Chemical Society, Washington, D.C., 1993.
Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, The Man Who Measured London, Harper-Collins, New York, 2004.
David Lindley, Degrees Kelvin: A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy, Joseph Henry Press, Washington, D.C., 2004.
Tom Schachtman, Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, Mariner Books, New York, 2002.
John T. Stock, Ostwald’s American Students,Plaidswede Publishing, Concord, New Hampshire, 2003.

Exams and Papers

Exams: There are two examinations during the semester, as indicated on the assignment table.  The examinations have multiple-choice and essay questions covering the readings and class discussions.   There is no final examination in this course.

Papers: Because this is a second-writing course, students are expected to write original papers on historical aspects of physical chemistry. Each paper has a length limit, imposed to prevent sensory overload of the instructor. Aside from the word limit and clear exposition of the topic, elements such as content, style, neatness, and attention to writing details contribute to the grade. (a) All papers must be written with a word processor in proper format. (b)  Papers are due on the specified dates no later than the beginning of class, as indicated in the schedule. Late papers (with an unexcused absence) will not be accepted and grades of zero are assigned for them.   (c) Each paper should be sent to the instructor in portable document format (PDF) by attaching it to an electronic message before the time it is due; see the instructor if you cannot send the paper in this manner.  The title of the file should be “Paper X_Your Last Name,” where X is the number. (d) This class uses a specific format, as seen in the example.  You must follow the format explicitly.  (e) Of specific importance is the referencing of the paper:  (1) Only the ACS style of references is allowed, as described in The ACS Style Guide.  (2) References to internet sites are not allowed.   Typically, you may reference the paper version of something you may find on the internet, but not the site directly.  For example, if you happen to be reading Time magazine or the New York Times or some other well-known publication at its website, you should only reference the paper version (properly, as if you had read the paper version) of the same article, but not the internet site.  (Because most internet sites are not reviewed, the quality and reliability of the information cannot be guaranteed, and therefore reference to such are not allowed.)

All forms of plagiarism are punishable by assignment of a grade of zero; that includes – but is not limited to – undocumented use of work of others as if it is your own.

Paper 1. A one-page discussion (no more than 500 words) of a topic of interest, which has been recently reported. Your paper should explain results reported, methods used, and the reason the authors chose to write on this particular topic.  After you have explained the thesis of the paper, indicate whether you agree or disagree with the author, and why.  This paper is graded on understanding of the subject (content), as well as on style, neatness, and attention to the details of writing.

Paper 2. An essay about a topic derived from readings. It should be no more than 500 words and demonstrate a point of view on the topic.  It is graded only on style, neatness, and on attention to details of writing, not on your opinion of the topic.

Consider the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There have been calls to remove the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  First, do you think this is a good idea?  Explain your answer clearly.  If you think this should happen, briefly explain how you think one should go about this task.  If you think it is not a good idea, explain why you think this is potentially dangerous or bad or harmful. Regardless of your opinion, your answer should be well-reasoned and concise.  A good paper will conform to style and will have great care in composition, including sentence structure, paragraph structure, and care in formal writing.  This must be done in a one-page paper (a difficult task, but I believe you can do it).

Paper 3. The major paper in this course. It should range from 2000 to 3000 words in length (4 – 6 pages). Each student is randomly assigned a topic in the history of physical chemistry, on which he/she must write an original paper. The content of the paper must be original, which will require extensive library research.  The paper must be carefully organized to present a statement about the topic and explication of the central thesis of the paper.  The paper must have a careful writing style, adhering to the rules of grammar and organization.  To allow the author to respond to criticism of style and content, the paper is given a provisional grade and returned to the student with comments; a student may return a rewritten version of the paper for additional credit, or accept the provisional grade as the final grade (by not returning a revised version).

Paper 4. This paper is a short (no more than two pages) exposition of a topic in the history of physical chemistry chosen by the student.  It must be clear, concise, and complete.  It will be graded on style, content, and originality.


Class Attendance and Participation

Attendance is mandatory and is checked each class period. Absences are excused only for illness or university-approved activities (sports or band trips, for example). Examinations, homework or quizzes missed because of an unexcused absence are given grades of zero.   Not only is attendance mandatory, but participation in the discussion is a determinant of your grade.  (See below.)  Assignments are due on specific days, and will not be accepted later than that, except for excused absences.

This class begins at 8:00 a.m. Every student is expected to be in the room at that moment.  Be sure to arrange your transportation to arrive early.  Late arrival will result in deduction of a point from the grade for that day.


Grade Weights
o   Paper 1, 5%
o   Paper 2, 5%
o   Paper 3, 20% (10% for outline; 10% for the final paper)
o   Paper 4, 10%
o   Each exam, 25%
o   Class attendance and participation, 10%
Grade Cutoffs (in percentages of total points)
o   A greater than 90%
o   B greater than 80%
o   C greater than 70%
o   D greater than 60%
o   F below 60%

Copyright, Cecil Dybowski, 1998-2021. Last Updated: January 4, 2021.