Is Organic Chem Necessary for Engineering? Chemistry vs. Chemical Eng, Flipped Classrooms & Teaching

What do you say to people who say that organic chemistry is just memorization yeah it's funny organic can be taught in a in a rote manner but it can also be taught in a in a fundamental manner and when my classmates studying for the mcat who .

Are taking like the pre-med version of organic chemistry and they said it's all memorization you need to know what mitsunobu is and how to do a sworn oxidation and just memorize where to push all the arrows but the way that my instructor taught it this is john snyder who's at who is at boston .

University just taught it in the language of molecular orbitals and electrostatic interactions and it just made sense where things went like legos and so so i think there there is a way to do it uh that is less road now the named reactions .

What are you gonna do about that but what level of organic chemistry is needed for courses you teach at ucsd so we have two engineering majors within our department nanoengineering and chemical engineering and the nano engineering students do not take any organic chemistry some of them take a polymers class that .

Sort of teaches what they need to know maybe some radical reactions some not even some poly condensation reactions but they don't need to know what happens at the carbonyl carbon they just need to know what the outcome .

Of the of the you know a plus b equals you know a b the chemical engineers take an entire year so uh ucsd is on the quarter really trimester system and they uh they take the full year-long sequence of organic most chemical engineers unless they are pre-med or planning on doing a lot of .

Synthesis don't need in my opinion they don't need the whole year i think that that it's it's not you know i don't want to um you know offend organic chemists because i am one that's my first language and i wouldn't be able to do what i can do .

Without literacy in organic chemistry uh but there are aspects of i most of them are like named reactions that are that are just not .

Not necessary there's way too much stereochemistry for engineers um the you know we the engineers should know what an anti-mirror and a diastereomer are and a tautomer and an animer and an epimer but you know we don't need five .

Six seven weeks on it how does accreditation affect the need for organic chemistry in various engineering programs is there a need for organic chemistry for nano engineering what about for your chemical engineering program in the nano engineering program there certainly is so the nano engineering .

Program is kind of like an interdisciplinary sort of r d focused major we enroll about 45 students per year and they take courses that are uh have their foundations in electrical and computer engineering physics .

Um biology was what used to be required but i actually used to teach the biochem the one-quarter biochem class for the nano-engineering students but we made that an elective now um and the students uh you know many of the applications in polymer science and .

Polymer you know vesicle-based drug delivery systems polymer recycling microelectronics fabrication so photoresist chemistry that kind of thing all require knowledge of organics also organic light emitting displays .

To a lesser extent solar cells and rfid tags things that are you know that that require some some knowledge there and they want to know so they want to know organic a lot of them take it as an elective but the first quarter of organic chemistry doesn't necessarily encapsulate all that they .

Would need from all three quarters um and so it's not really enough to take the first course and the the first course in the sequence because they're they're not getting everything that they need the chemical engineers it's in an issue of accreditation and uh i don't know exactly what abet .

Says about how much organic a chemical engineer has to take but i suspect it's one year to be to be consistent across all programs there are some universities namely stanford chemical engineering that that um got rid of its uh abet accreditation but .

Yeah but schools in the top five have you know the sheepskin effect and they can uh they can get away with doing yeah yeah um but even chemical engineers there is there is stuff you know retrosynthetic analysis stereochemistry named reactions um .

I i think about markovnikov and anti-markovnikov edition and where is the epoxide ring going to open i mean those are things there's an opportunity cost to learning those things that that in a if if you wanted to teach a full year chemical organic chemistry course to chemical .

Engineers you should replace a lot of that stuff with the thermodynamics of self-assembly with intermolecular and surface forces how do how does surface tension arise based on uh quantitative understanding of electrostatic interactions between .

Molecules and between surfaces and that is all um or that all those processes are all mediated by organic structures but they're non-covalent interactions they are derived from van der waals forces and capillary forces and electric double layer forces .

And we should and a chemical engineer who is interested who is going to be doing often more continuum based research or or product development process engineering tends to need to know the .

These continuum properties as opposed to molecular details of electrons moving around you mentioned on twitter that you were working on a proposal for a one unit organic chemistry course for engineers are you taking stuff out or are you adding new topics so there is a subtractive and an .

Additive component of the the proposal that that i am considering putting forward um and there would be substantial headwinds at the campus level if you said that the chemical engineers no longer took the the normal .

Organic chemistry sequence because the chemistry departments wouldn't like it their their their uh ta positions that are associated with chemical engineers there are ftes that are related to having a certain number of students in a class and .

That that boat would be difficult to rock chemical engineers chemical engineering at the you know let's take the i don't know top 30 engineering schools .

Are quite well uh populated um it's at ucsd we have uh we used to have 250 chemical engineers per per year we had a huge number maybe maybe it was maybe it was 200 at max and there are a lot of campus resources that flow to chemistry departments to serve .

Those that student population how does the availability of teaching assistantships affect resource allocation in chemistry versus engineering labs chemistry departments complain about about having to you know serve the pre-med students the .

Biology students the engineering students uh but then they get all these ta resources and and faculty positions in in fact um to to service the the load and it affects graduate education in those departments as well because you can take you can string together a .

Number of a bunch of ta ships and offer first-year students the ability to rotate which you generally can't do in an engineering school without another source of funding it allows pis in chemistry departments to over .

Um to have bigger research groups uh it allows them as a result to have the basis to get more lab space more fume hoods and in in part you know this is also kind of an interesting uh .

Difference between chemical chemistry and and chemical engineering is that the salaries are higher in engineering but the startups are lower uh the startup packages are lower but in in chemistry the salaries are lower but the startup packages are sometimes 100 larger and .

And also all of these ta ships are available um sometimes in engineering a student hasn't hasn't had a ta ship and it and they sit in some programs they need it for their uh their diploma and you have to find a way to like shoehorn the ta ship in their the quarter before they graduate or .

Defend or something like that and that that's uh something that that that happens but on the plus side you know they're supported the whole time and and they uh they're not overburdened with teaching unless they want to teach after they graduate which is would be a bad thing right because they don't get the .

Experience in a hypothetical one-term course in organic chemistry for engineers would there be a lab component what about nano-engineering versus chemical engineering okay they're given the two cases chemi and and nano e i think in nano engineering um i would not propose it as a lab .

Um because it's not part of our abet accreditation and it would probably be an elective um for it it's just way too hard to change you know the core and especially if a student is interested in more of the electronics and materials like hard materials aspects then they wouldn't .

Need this class in chemical engineering if you know if i could be be king of abet and change the uh change the loosen the rules as to what topics needed to be covered in a year-long organic course for chemise .

The lab would certainly stay what would you call an organic chemistry course intended for nano engineers or material scientists yeah what i would probably end up calling it like molecular engineering as opposed to organic chemistry for engineers it would it would have a title that was more .

Uh like how can you apply continuum principles to molecular species and and that's kind of how it would how it goes structure some reactivity non-covalent interactions what courses do you teach now and how have they influenced your ideas on what .

Knowledge of organic chemistry is needed for engineers so the classes that i teach now uh really do inform this uh this interest um the t the class that i've taught 10 years in a row is intermolecular and surface forces which is a graduate course for all of our incoming nano engineering students .

Graduate students but a lot of our senior undergrads take it and most of our chemie grad students take it as well as an elective and uh i'm not sure if you're familiar with the the late jacob israelis feeli formerly of uc santa barbara he's a .

A chemical engineering uh was a chemical engineering professor who wrote this uh brilliant monograph on the topic uh the title is just called intermolecular intermolecular and surface forces and it builds up uh the everyday phenomena of uh .

Self-assembly adhesion um surface tension uh energy dissipation friction lubrication from dipole-dipole dipole-induced dipole van der waals force hydrogen bonding and it's such a beautiful self-consistent .

Theory where you can go in any page in the book and it and it refers back to uh some molecular principle you learned in chapter 2 and it's just the best monograph on any any theoretical topic that i've ever seen .

And i um i tell my students when they start in that course that this is the most important course in the physical sciences that is not taught at every university and probably only taught at 20 20 or fewer .

Uh universities because it explains you know not all of the the interactions of matter and the changes that it undergoes are changes in uh movement of electrons i mean how many reactions do you see like like there are reactions going on .

In your your body but the uh you know the reason that a that tape sticks has nothing to do with with movement of electrons the reason that uh that you can walk along the floor without circling the the globe is uh the reason that there are oceans the .

Reason that uh that there are uh organic compounds in the air none of these things involve reactivity uh they all involve uh electrostatic forces and forces derived from van der waals forces of which the dispersion component is ultimately determined by fluctuations of electron .

Clouds and therefore quantum mechanics and yet we spend all of this time concerned about what the formal charge is of an oxygen atom you know in the in the tetrahedral intermediate in a carbonyl you know in a cyanohydrin formation which 99 of scientists will never see .

And it will never be important in in their day-to-day work uh you know why does how do composite materials work um what is the van der waals pressure in an organic crystal if i take one of these uh hard jolly rancher candies which is a .

Which is basically a van der waals solid and i try to pull it apart at a two-dimensional cleavage plane the force holding it together the pressure holding it together is about is about 5 000 atmospheres and you can break it apart without breaking a single covalent bond that's just how strong the the .

Van der waals forces are at uh you know at 0.2 nanometers distance um and so the behavior of matter is dictated by these processes that we .

Barely talk about the discussion of of vanderval's forces in at the college level barely goes beyond what's mentioned in 10th or 11th grade high school chemistry there's dipole dipole okay that's obvious dipole-induced dipole and then .

There's something called lunge and dispersion interactions which are taught to us as being weak because after all uh the the um cohesive properties of methane and ideal gases are are relatively weak but what is not taught is that is that paraffin wax and candles .

Are predominantly held together by london dispersion forces which are very strong if you have a molecule of appreciable size and completely dominate the dipole-dipole-dipole-induced dipole or hydrogen bonding forces once you have once you have three four five carbon atoms .

That's it that's like even acetone has a dipole but but its properties are determined mostly by the fact that it's big and it has a lot of polarizable electrons my other primary course is nano 101 it's now called nano 11 because we teach it to freshmen and and you can't have a three .

Three digit course number for a lower division and uh we we go through uh it's 10 weeks but we spend about a week each on uh on size confinement confinement effects um uh optoelectronic processes .

Spectroscopy quantum mechanics micro nano fabrication applications in energy biomedicine we do spend some time talking about colloids and interfacial properties that are dominated by nanoscale forces and it's it started out as quite a traditional course with uh homeworks and exams but .

It's very project based now it's is it's as experiential as it can get without being in a lab we do a lot of thought experiments and and projects and and library research in it that's facilitated also by the the teaching style that i use which is all of my .

Classes are recorded they're all on youtube actually and the students use that those recordings as the video textbook and then the the class period ideally is like the late show it's a variety show with um a monologue .

From for me and then a bunch of problems that the students do and then some thought experiments and some uh and and our projects in the last third of the course your approach to teaching sounds like flipped classroom active learning isn't .

That standard practice now standard parlance but not widely practiced i mean it's widely practiced but but it's uh i i would say fewer than 25 probably fewer than 20 of faculty are teaching this way um in my .

Do you think the preference for flipping the classroom depends on the age of the instructor it would be higher for faculty less than or equal to 40 i would say has the percentage of faculty using technology or active learning approaches changed recently and why .

Yeah i think covet has changed it i think that asynchronous instruction or the production of videos by faculty members that can be watched anytime is a is it's halfway there .

To to flipping a class um but the you know the original proponent of peer instruction uh eric mazur that were kind of he was one of the the pioneers um he doesn't like he doesn't the use of videos is not his preferred .

Delivery mechanism it's still a book but it's a book that you can interact with in real time and so a book that you can highlight yeah like an ebook that that you can see other students notes and do you prefer books or videos for your .

Flipped classroom modalities if my flipped classroom modality was was a book as a pre-reading i don't think i would do it i think i i think it has to be for me it would have to the the recorded lecture is the the hook for me do you think active learning is really .

More effective than traditional lecturing in terms of student outcomes so that that's always i mean it's difficult to do a randomized control trial in educational methodology um because you kind of know what the outcome is going to be and you don't want to really disadvantage the control arm of the .

Study and yes if you're forcing the students to read before coming to class they're going to do better and that's regardless of what you actually present in the class i would i suspect that the flipped aspect .

Is um is like icing on the cake the fact that students are working together in groups and teaching to each other uh you know unfamiliar concepts true and i i should probably walk back something i i said um in the peer instruction active modality you can definitely see when you do .

Clicker based or on zoom poll based questions where before you use the breakout rooms the response is maybe 35 correct and then five minutes later you after the teams have worked together it's 85 correct .

And and that's almost like a magical effect um but it's like does somebody really explain it to the other team members or just i mean i guess they have the best argument because logic of the best solution wins out or is it like hey i actually did the reading this is the answer i don't know i don't know how much of it is is that .

Um so uh but you know there are ways of of enforcing the reading using you know daily quizzes actually this is what i do if they have to submit a class quiz online before showing up to class uh but yes your your point about uh about flipped classroom versus active learning is well taken that strictly .

Speaking you can flip a class just by asking them to do the homework in the class without any active component um but the active part is the the uh the engagement you were trained as a chemist but now work in an engineering department how has your status as an outsider affected .

Your view of different engineering disciplines among engineering disciplines you have this you have disciplines that are more uh immediately connected to uh products and services that people use every day so more development and then on the other side you have things that .

Are more research and the research disciplines have become are the newer engineering departments bioengineering nano engineering originally computer science and engineering but now that's directly applicable to everybody's life but then the the traditional disciplines .

Of mechanical and aerospace and chemical engineering are more on the development side that somebody could get a job with a bachelor's degree and have a reasonable expectation of the project that they work on is going to end up in a product the next year um or they're they're optimizing something that's already uh kind of exists that they need .

To make better a a chemi an ee a computer e has a mackie have have very few problems with getting a job out of undergrad the more research-based uh engineering disciplines that use research that use engineering science if that's a thing i .

Think it is there's something about uh about application we generally care about higher higher order phenomena it tends to be in in the field of chemical material science it's it's more continuum and and less molecular .

And also less biological as well um it's because biology is is hard to treat as a continuum system because you have all of these biochemical and cellular pathways and neurological pathways happening all the time there's so much idiosyncrasy .

Between individuals especially in medicine if you make a if you're a biomedical engineer and you make a prosthetic knee or a pacemaker or something the reaction it needs to be tailored more so there's more uh there's more idiosyncrasy .

If you are a nano engineer the uh there are a couple of fields that lend themselves well to bachelor bachelor's level employment namely microelectronics because if you're working in the clean room you .

Know how to process semiconductor wafers but if you're working in drug development then you're on the same footing as uh as chemists even though and and biologists and uh and natural scientists and even though you have the the the engineering um .

Mindset hopefully um uh created as a result of this uh four-year program the problems that that that focus on that scale lend itself to are are more messy let's say in nature bachelor's level in this context means let's say one to two years out of undergraduate .

Like the the the job you get as a as a fresh graduate how did you become so engaged on social media youtube and podcasts so it started with the recording of my uh my course lectures and it was like asking for forgiveness is you know better than permission or whatever and then i had a .

Bunch of them online and i first started doing it for when i was traveling and i couldn't make the lecture so i would i would record one and i built up a few and i'm like you know what i should record all of them so 20 calendar year 2017 i recorded the whole intermolecular course the whole polymers course the .

Whole nano 11 course and i got you know 70 hours of stuff right there i think the polymer course is the only is it's clearly the most popular polymer chemistry course on youtube how do you continue to grow your subscriber base .

Frequent updates encourage subscription because that first year i was uh posting sometimes three times a week i also had a i was also the director of the graduate student and postdoc scholarly talk series where i would have .

Speakers come in but i gave half the talks myself and i would record the ones that i gave and they would be on scientific writing actually uh i wrote a an article called the garlic shallots and butter of scientific writing that was in chemistry of materials .

So it it became a i think the content is is like evergreen because it's science and issues of importance to grad students and postdocs and early career faculty members and the interested public and when they search for certain topics sometimes i'm the only hit that comes up .

And uh and then they find you know other stuff on there that they that they like and they share it with friends and uh my twitter started after youtube but twitter is definitely helped um bump up the numbers but .

Even if i don't share anything if i post a new if i post new content that's just me talking actually the interviews do less well but if it's just me talking and it has like a clickable headline then i'll get a thousand views in um a couple days .

How do you manage social media with other time commitments yeah i i have it um i have it blocked on firefox completely and on on chrome i have a 10 minute timer for twitter facebook cnn and the new york times because i i .

I can't uh it's just an engineering control because i would just get stuck in loops youtube i can watch an infinite amount of but i don't tend to waste time on youtube it's mostly khan academy and