Problems and Problem Solving in Chemistry Education: Analysing Data, Looking for Patterns and Making Deductions, ed. G. Tsaparlis, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021, pp. P009-P010.
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Chemistry is among the science disciplines that have provided us with a theoretical explanation of how nature works. Together with other disciplines, it has also transformed our way of living by increasing the quality and availability of new drugs and vaccines, new materials, safe and healthy food, more efficient and environmentally friendly energy transformations, and by contributing to the sustainability of our planet. A reminder of the themes of recent Nobel Prizes in Chemistry shows its width, depth, and applicability:
2020: “for the development of a method for genome editing” (Genetic scissors: a tool for rewriting the code of life)
2019: “for the development of lithium-ion batteries” (A rechargeable world)
2018: “for the directed evolution of enzymes” and “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies” (Harnessing the power of evolution)
2017: “for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution” (Revolutionizing biochemistry)
2016: “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines” (The world's smallest machines)
2015: “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair” (The cells’ toolbox for DNA repair).
To strengthen the case, let us also have a look at the current COVID-19 pandemic, and see how important the contribution of chemistry (together with many other disciplines) has been in determining the structure of the virus that causes the disease, in the development of appropriate tests for detecting and monitoring the positive cases, in the synthesis of appropriate drugs for preventing and fighting its grave effects, and most importantly in the manufacture of safe and effective vaccines, thus providing a way to control and to end the pandemic. More information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease (including information about leading vaccines and how they work), specifically in relation to problem solving, is provided in the Postscript, at the end of this book (Chapter 18).
Sadly, on the other hand, chemistry has also contributed to serious environmental, societal, and political problems. However, there is good reason for hope that the continuing progress of chemistry will enable us to find appropriate solutions for these problems.
Problem solving involves a complex set of activities, processes, and behaviors for which various models have been used at various times. Although many chemistry problems share common features with mathematics and physics problems, such as those in physical and in analytical chemistry, there are many chemistry problems that provide a whole new “theme park” of idiosyncratic problem solving procedures such as problems in stoichiometry, in organic chemistry (especially in reaction mechanisms and synthesis), in the spectroscopic identification of compounds and molecular structures, and in the areas of molecular biology and biochemistry. On the other hand, the availability of a multitude of modern instructional methodologies, including new technologies, teamwork, and blended learning, have served to make the teaching of problem solving more challenging and demanding than ever.
It is therefore fortunate that many experts from a variety of areas of problem solving in chemistry, from various countries (Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Sweden, UK, and USA) have accepted my invitation to contribute their expertise to the realization of this book. In all, there are eighteen chapters that cover many aspects of problem solving in chemistry. These are organized under the following themes: (I) General issues in problem solving in chemistry education; (II) Problem solving in organic chemistry and biochemistry; (III) Chemistry problem solving under specific contexts; (IV) New technologies in problem solving in chemistry, and (V) New perspectives for problem solving in chemistry education. Short descriptions of the contents of the book are presented in the introductory chapter (Chapter 1), while extended summaries can be found in Chapter 17.