Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chemistry For Everyone - Suzanne Lahl And Cris Qualiana

chemistry for everyone - suzanne lahl and cris qualiana
chemistry for everyone - suzanne lahl and cris qualiana

Four Stars (out of five) For many people, just hearing the word "chemistry" will make them shudder. Images of high school teachers in lab coats, droning on about the periodic table, is enough to turn students away before they even give themselves a chance to learn about this very important branch of science. It is very important, however, and learning its natural mysteries can be both fascinating and fun.

Chemistry for Everyone is a primer for students facing chemistry courses in high school or college. Suzanne Lahl, who holds a Ph.D in organic chemistry, intends for her book to be read before students enter the classroom. In this way, she hopes they can be better prepared to deal with the large amount of information that is likely coming their way. She states: "I'm hoping you have a different experience than most students (including myself), who learn each concept separately, do the problems and take the tests without seeing the big picture until years later, if at all."

The book is well-organized and well-written. Lahl covers key concepts like the atom, scientific notation, unit conversions, chemical reactions and solubility. The reader will not struggle to follow the text. The author makes excellent use of examples and provides review questions at the end of each chapter that highlight the main points. The book does contain some very complex topics, so most students will still need to sincerely apply themselves to understand everything that is being taught. The detailed glossary and index, as well as a brief bibliography, a key to abbreviations, and resources for further reading, will all prove helpful.

Certain, hands-on readers may wish that Lahl included one additional component: the directions for experiments that could be conducted at home to demonstrate some of the concepts. For many students, lab experiments are the most enjoyable and most helpful learning moments. Lahl does not offer any recommendations for such experiments, and this may make the book less useful for some readers. Additionally, the accompanying illustrations and drawings are very basic. They do little to help illuminate the author's major points.

Ultimately, this book is definitely worth reading. Chemistry does not have to be daunting or boring. The big picture overview Lahl provides will, no doubt, enhance the class experience for any reader who makes the effort to read it.

- Catherine Thureson -- Foreword Clarion Review, October 11, 2010

Two Stars ("Highly Recommended") As I began reading this book, I thought about all of the students that Lahl's approach might help. Her plain language and frequent use of metaphor in explaining basic, but important, topics in chemistry seem like a winner. The format is straightforward: 12 short chapters, each devoted to one concept that is fundamental to understanding chemistry. She begins with some tips on studying and test taking, followed by discussions of the atom and the periodic table, scientific notation, calculator use, significant figures, the mole and molarity, units and conversions, acidity and basicity, the ideal-gas law, solubility, bonding, and chemical reactions. Included are a list of common abbreviations used in science and a glossary.

Each chapter is short and to the point, with a few simple illustrations. At the end of each are a few questions and space for answers, meant to focus again on the important take-away messages. All in all, the text is a good starting point and ongoing resource for high school and possibly some college students. My only misgiving is whether the students who might really benefit will even take the time and invest the mental effort to use the book. It is about as unintimidating as any science text could be, which I consider a strength. But many of the chapters do take concentration, as happens anytime someone wants to learn something like chemistry. Well-prepared and motivated students would certainly benefit from Lahl's introduction and would do so on their own. Average students and even those who struggle in science could benefit from a book like this, too. But would they do devote the extra time it would take? I'm skeptical.

Perhaps the best way for the book to help students of average ability and below is for copies to be in classrooms. The teacher can then either point to the various sections as topics are started during the school year or even assign chapters for extra credit (and maybe only for students whose grade is below some threshold). Overall, I applaud the author for trying to provide a path for more students to succeed in science. --Lee Katterman, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI --AAAS Science Books & Films (SB&F) Review, October 2010


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