Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works

Course No. 1350
Associate Teaching Professor Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D.
Georgetown University
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Course No. 1350
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn the units for dealing with matter at the atomic scale.
  • numbers Consider how atoms and molecules can create, consume, and transport the most vital commodity in the universe: energy.
  • numbers Investigate the physical properties that define the most common phases of matter: solids, liquids, and gases.
  • numbers Observe how Graham's law links the mass of gas particles to the rate at which they escape through a small aperture, a process known as effusion.
  • numbers See how a desired pH can be achieved through regulation of acid-base reactions.
  • numbers Survey the types of chemicals that can harm human health and analyze the differences between a poison, a toxin, and a venom.

Course Overview

Our world is ruled by chemistry. The air we breathe is nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases. The clothing we wear is cellulose, protein, or synthetic polymers. When we take to the road, we are propelled by the combustion of hydrocarbons or the reactions inside storage batteries. Look around and everything you see is the product of chemistry—including the sunlight pouring through the window, which originates in the fusion of atoms at the core of the sun.

Chemistry is the study of matter and energy at the scale of atoms and molecules. As the most all-embracing discipline there is, it should be at the top of everyone’s list of must-learn subjects. Unfortunately, chemistry has an undeserved reputation for difficulty and abstraction. Any subject that encompasses as many components as chemistry is going to appear complex. The beauty of delving into the study of chemistry is the discovery of how organized, logical, consistent, and powerfully predictive it becomes—if properly presented.

Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works is your in-depth introduction to this vital field, taught over 60 visually innovative half-hour lectures that are suitable for the chemist in all of us, no matter what our background. Covering a year’s worth of introductory general chemistry at the college level, plus intriguing topics that are rarely discussed in the classroom, this amazingly comprehensive course requires nothing more advanced than high-school math. Employing simple concepts, logical reasoning, and vivid graphics that illuminate the wonders of chemistry, these lectures make essential concepts crystal clear. Best of all, this highly interactive approach features extensive hands-on, dramatic demonstrations, from which you will gain extraordinary insight into how the universe works.

Your guide is Professor Ron B. Davis, Jr., a research chemist and award-winning teacher at Georgetown University. With passion and humor, Professor Davis guides you through the fascinating world of atoms, molecules, and their ceaseless interactions, showing you how to think, analyze problems, and predict outcomes like a true expert in the field.

A Chemistry Course Like No Other

Chemistry and Our Universe is ideal for anyone curious about the underlying unity of the material world or interested in such subjects as cooking, painting, metalworking, pottery, auto mechanics, gardening, energy production—there are countless everyday uses of chemistry. The ideas you explore in these lectures truly have universal applications. The course will also appeal to those currently involved in chemistry—from chemistry students in high school or college to health professionals, scientists, managers in industry, and others for whom a refresher course taught by an outstanding teacher will spark new insights.

Anyone who sat through introductory chemistry in a lecture hall will be astonished by what computer-generated graphics and 3-D animations can do to make the subject engaging and understandable Professor Davis worked with The Great Courses production team to create a chemistry course like no other, with features including:

  • A virtual reality studio: Professor Davis conducts the course from an augmented reality set, where he interacts with chemical equations, splits atoms, rotates molecules, traces the steps in reactions, highlights key points, and otherwise brings chemistry to life, showing exactly how chemists think about their subject.
  • A real chemistry lab: Every chemistry course needs a lab, and Professor Davis often adjourns to a real laboratory to investigate the phenomena he has just been discussing in a lecture. Lab coat, safety glasses, and a hazardous materials permit are required, so don’t try these experiments at home!
  • Using kitchen chemistry: You are invited to try these demonstrations, which Professor Davis performs in a kitchen. Most kitchen cupboards are well-stocked with materials for chemistry experiments. For example, a wine bottle can be opened without a corkscrew thanks to a phenomenon called the incompressibility of liquids.
  • Expanded reviews and practice: Every lecture ends with a review of the main points covered in that session, often including a challenge problem to help crystallize concepts and let you test your understanding. The accompanying guidebook reprints all of the challenge problems—and more—with worked-out solutions.

Setting the Periodic Table

Walk into any chemistry classroom or open any chemistry textbook and you will see the periodic table of elements. It can also be glimpsed on T-shirts, coffee mugs, sneakers, and even dining tables, especially around universities. Although committing the elements to memory can be the bane of many beginning chemistry students, once you learn the straightforward rules for deciphering it, this compendium of data becomes remarkably simple to use. Under Professor Davis’s expert guidance, you learn to read the many levels of information in the periodic table; see how it predicts properties such as melting and boiling points; and discover why gaps and mysteries in the first drafts of the table by its creator, Dmitri Mendeleev, led to key breakthroughs in chemistry.

Simply by ordering the known chemical elements—the different atoms that constitute matter—by their relative weights, Mendeleev was able to discover patterns among elements with similar properties. Moreover, his early versions of the table proved to be a veritable treasure map, pointing the way to new elements, new properties, and hinting at new atomic features that were yet to be discovered. One of these features turned out to be the electron, which, in its many configurations surrounding atoms, explains the most notable characteristics of the chemical world: the bonding of atoms to make molecules, and the way atoms and molecules combine and recombine in chemical reactions.

Meet Chemistry’s Greatest Thinkers

As you progress through Chemistry and Our Universe, you build an understanding of the many ways in which atoms can be combined to create a huge assortment of materials. By the last part of the course, you will be ready to survey the complex chemistry of entire systems—and you have the opportunity to do so in lectures devoted to the Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and the cosmos itself.

Throughout the course, you meet dozens of major figures in the history of chemistry—great scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier, Joseph Priestley, John Dalton, Marie Curie, Svante Arrhenius, Robert Millikan, Alexander Fleming, and Linus Pauling, to name just a few. You learn who they were, the mysteries they attempted to solve, and the innovations that saw their names attached to new principles, equations, or scientific laws. In many cases, you get to see demonstrations that illustrate their important insights, helping to cement key concepts in your mind.

  • Predicting reactions: Two experiments—combusting hydrogen gas and dissolving ammonium nitrate—set you thinking about exothermic versus endothermic reactions, as first described by James Joule and Ludwig Boltzmann. Then derive J. Willard Gibbs’s ingenious equation for predicting which direction a reaction will take.
  • Gas laws: Robert Boyle’s gas law tells you how to inflate a balloon to full volume with a single breath. With Jacques Charles’s law, you can restore a dented ping-pong ball to its original shape. Also learn the gas laws of Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Amedeo Avogadro. Finally, draw on all four equations to derive the famous ideal gas law.
  • Historic synthesis: Henry Le Chatelier noticed that a chemical system in equilibrium readjusts to a new equilibrium when disturbed. Observe this effect in the lab, and learn how Fritz Haber exploited it in a groundbreaking application—the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, indispensable for making fertilizers and explosives.
  • Splitting the atom: Atoms of uranium-235 randomly fission (split apart), releasing two neutrons, which can cause further fissions. With enough neutrons, the reaction becomes self-sustaining, an event first achieved by Enrico Fermi. How does Professor Davis demonstrate a chain reaction safely? With 96 mousetraps and ping-pong balls!

Put on Your ‘Chemistry Glasses”

As befits a subject that deals with the entirety of the material world, your journey in Chemistry and Our Universe covers quite a lot of territory. By the close of Lecture 60, you will have surveyed the map of the discipline, learned the foundational principles, and prepared for deeper exploration in more advanced courses. You will be able to read science news articles with an enhanced understanding, talk shop with chemists, and have informed opinions about the chemistry behind public policy issues such as energy production and climate change.

Above all, you will find that you have acquired a delightful accessory that adds a new dimension to life: ‘chemistry glasses.” Wherever you look—in the medicine chest, in the natural world, in a kitchen drawer, anywhere—you will see things in a fresh and exciting way. For example:

  • Medicines: Chemistry tells us how medicines work. Professor Davis follows the stealthy mission of the ibuprofen molecule as it slips into the active site of an enzyme that stimulates inflammation, thereby reducing swelling and pain. You also explore the mechanisms of antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs.
  • Poisons, toxins, and venoms: Learn how poisons, toxins, and venoms differ, with examples of each and the chemical reasons for their lethality. In the case of the poison arsenic, the periodic table shows that this atom readily substitutes for phosphorus, which has a crucial role in biological systems.
  • Tarnish no more! In his lecture on redox reactions, Professor Davis points out that aluminum is higher on the activity series of metals than silver, which means that the silver sulfide ions of tarnish readily give up electrons to aluminum, making aluminum foil a perfect tarnish remover. Check the internet for tips on how to do it.
  • Water: Ubiquitous on Earth and in space, water has a special place in chemistry because of its unique properties, which relate to the molecule’s bent shape and covalent bond. The importance of water is covered throughout the course, from the macro level to the micro—including why steam cleaning is so phenomenally effective!
  • ”Chemistry is Wonderful!”

    Early in the course, Professor Davis presents the pioneering research on the chemical bond by one of history’s greatest chemists, Linus Pauling, whose work won him the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Pauling is truly a role model for seeing the big picture, because his understanding of events in the atomic realm led him to grasp the tremendous dangers posed by nuclear testing, and his campaign for nuclear disarmament won him a second Nobel Prize, this one for Peace in 1962.

    After he retired, Pauling gave a talk at which he couldn’t help promoting his field. ‘Chemistry is wonderful!” he exclaimed. ‘I feel sorry for people who don’t know anything about chemistry. They are missing an important part of life, an important source of happiness—satisfying one’s intellectual curiosity. The whole world is wonderful and chemistry is an important part of it.” After you finish these exhilarating lectures, you’ll know exactly what he means.

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60 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Is Chemistry the Science of Everything?
    Chemistry is the study of all matter, but matter at a very particular scale-that of atoms and molecules. Professor Davis begins by outlining his approach to this enormous topic and then introduces the periodic table of elements, one of the most powerful conceptual tools ever devised. x
  • 2
    Matter and Measurement
    Chemists have convenient units for dealing with matter at the atomic scale. In this lecture, learn the origin and relative size of the angstrom to measure length, as well as the atomic mass unit, the mole for measuring quantity and the Kelvin scale for temperature. x
  • 3
    Wave Nature of Light
    Light interacts with matter in crucial ways. In the first of two lectures on the nature of light, follow the debate over whether light is a wave or a particle, starting in antiquity. See how the wave theory appeared to triumph in the 19th century and led to the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum. x
  • 4
    Particle Nature of Light
    Although light has wave-like properties, it also behaves like a particle that comes in discrete units of energy, termed quanta. Learn how physicists Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and others built a revolutionary picture of light that recognizes both its wave- and particle-like nature. x
  • 5
    Basic Structure of the Atom
    Peel back the layers of the atom to investigate what's inside. Observe how electrons, protons, and neutrons are distributed, how they give an atom its identity, and how they affect its electrical charge and atomic mass. Discover the meaning of terms such as isotope, anion, and cation. x
  • 6
    Electronic Structure of the Atom
    Starting with hydrogen, see how electrons organize themselves within the atom, depending on their energy state. Graduate from Niels Bohr's revolutionary model of the atom to Erwin Schrodinger's even more precise theory. Then, chart different electron configurations in heavier and heavier atoms. x
  • 7
    Periodic Trends: Navigating the Table
    Return to the periodic table, introduced in Lecture 1, to practice predicting properties of elements based on their electronic structure. Then, witness what happens when three different alkali metals react with water. Theory forecasts a pronounced difference in the result. Is there? x
  • 8
    Compounds and Chemical Formulas
    Turn to molecules, which are groups of atoms that make up compounds as well as some elements. Learn to calculate the empirical formula for a simple molecule and also its molecular formula, which gives the exact number of each type of atom. x
  • 9
    Joining Atoms: The Chemical Bond
    In the first of five lectures on chemical bonds, start to unravel the mystery of what joins atoms into molecules. Investigate how molecular bonds reflect the octet rule encountered in Lecture 7 and fall into four classes: ionic, covalent, polar covalent, and metallic bonds. x
  • 10
    Mapping Molecules: Lewis Structures
    Working at the turn of the 20th century, chemist Gilbert N. Lewis devised a simple method for depicting the essential blueprint of a molecule's structure. Learn how to draw Lewis structures, and use this technique to explore such concepts as formal charge and resonance. x
  • 11
    VSEPR Theory and Molecular Geometry
    Take the next step beyond Lewis structures to see how atoms in a molecule are arranged in three dimensions. VSEPR theory (valence-shell electron-pair repulsion theory) provides chemists with a quick way to predict the shapes of molecules based on a few basic assumptions. x
  • 12
    Hybridization of Orbitals
    Meet one of the fathers of modern physical chemistry, Linus Pauling. Hear about his theory of orbital hybridization, which solves some of the shortcomings of VSEPR theory by averaging the charge of electrons in different orbitals, accounting for the peculiar geometry of certain molecules. x
  • 13
    Molecular Orbital Theory
    Discover an alternate model of chemical bonding: molecular orbital theory, developed by Friedrich Hund and Robert Mulliken. This idea explains such mysteries as why oxygen is paramagnetic. See a demonstration of oxygen's attraction to a magnet, then use molecular orbital theory to understand why this happens. x
  • 14
    Communicating Chemical Reactions
    Begin your study of chemical reactions by investigating how chemists write reactions using a highly systematized code. Next, Professor Davis introduces the "big four" types of chemical reactions: synthesis, decomposition, single displacement, and double displacement. He also shows how to translate between measurements in moles and grams. x
  • 15
    Chemical Accounting: Stoichiometry
    Stoichiometry may sound highly technical, but it is simply the relative proportions in which chemicals react. Discover how to balance a reaction equation, and learn how to solve problems involving limiting reagents, theoretical yield, percent yield, and optimized reactions. x
  • 16
    Enthalpy and Calorimetry
    Consider how atoms and molecules can create, consume, and transport the most vital commodity in the universe: energy. Practice calculating energy changes in reactions, explore the concept of enthalpy (the total heat content of a system), and learn how chemists use a device called a calorimeter. x
  • 17
    Hess's Law and Heats of Formation
    In 1840, chemist Germain Hess theorized that total heat change in a chemical reaction is equal to the sum of the heat changes of its individual steps. Study the implications of this principle, known as Hess's law. In the process, learn about heat of formation. x
  • 18
    Entropy: The Role of Randomness
    Now turn to entropy, which is a measure of disorder. According to the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy of closed systems always increases. See how this change can be calculated in chemical reactions by using the absolute entropy table. x
  • 19
    Influence of Free Energy
    Enthalpy and entropy are contrasting quantities. However, they are combined in the free energy equation, discovered by chemist J. Willard Gibbs, which predicts whether a reaction will take place spontaneously. Probe the difference between reactions that are endothermic (requiring heat) and exothermic (releasing heat). x
  • 20
    Intermolecular Forces
    Investigate the physical properties that define the most common phases of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. Then, focus on the intermolecular forces that control which of these phases a substance occupies. Analyze the role of London dispersion forces, dipole-dipole interactions, and hydrogen bonding. x
  • 21
    Phase Changes in Matter
    Survey events at the molecular level when substances convert between solid, liquid, and gaseous phases. Pay particular attention to the role of temperature and pressure on these transitions. Become familiar with a powerful tool of prediction called the phase diagram. x
  • 22
    Behavior of Gases: Gas Laws
    In the first of two lectures on the properties of gases, review the basic equations that describe their behavior. Learn the history of Boyle's law, Gay-Lussac's law, Charles's law, and Avogadro's law. Then use these four expressions to derive the celebrated ideal gas law. x
  • 23
    Kinetic Molecular Theory
    Apply the physics of moving bodies to the countless particles comprising a gas. Observe how Graham's law links the mass of gas particles to the rate at which they escape through a small aperture, a process known as effusion. See how this technique was used to enrich uranium for the first atomic weapons. x
  • 24
    Liquids and Their Properties
    Now turn to liquids, which have a more complicated behavior than gases. The same intermolecular forces apply to both, but at much closer range for liquids. Explore the resulting properties, including viscosity, volatility, incompressibility, and miscibility. Also consider applications of these qualities. x
  • 25
    Metals and Ionic Solids
    Solids are characterized by a defined volume and shape, created by close packing of atoms, ions, or molecules. Focus on how packing is very regular in crystalline solids, which display lattice geometries. In particular, study the structure and properties of metals and alloys. x
  • 26
    Covalent Solids
    Examine solids that are held together by forces other than metallic bonds. For example, sodium chloride (table salt) exhibits a lattice structure joined by ionic bonds; molecular solids such as sugar have covalent bonds; and diamond and graphite are cases of covalent network solids, as are silicates. x
  • 27
    Mixing It Up: Solutions
    Dip into the nature of solutions, distinguishing between solutes and the solvent. Review ways of reporting solution concentrations, including molarity, molality, parts per million, and parts per billion. See how chemists prepare solutions of known concentrations and also use light to determine concentration. x
  • 28
    Solubility and Saturation
    Continue your investigation of solutions by probing the maximum solubility of materials in water and the concept of saturated solutions. Explore the effect of temperature on solutions. Then, watch Professor Davis demonstrate Henry's law on the solubility of gases in liquids and the phenomenon of supersaturation. x
  • 29
    Colligative Properties of Solutions
    Certain properties of solutions depend only on the concentration of the solute particles dissolved, not on the nature of the particles. Called colligative properties, these involve such behaviors as lowering the freezing point, raising the boiling point, and osmotic pressure. Study examples of each. x
  • 30
    Modeling Reaction Rates
    Starting with a classic experiment called the elephant's toothpaste, begin your investigation of reaction rates. Learn to express rates mathematically and understand the importance of rate order, which is related to the powers of the concentrations. Extend these ideas to half-life equations, which are vital for dating geologic processes and archaeological artifacts. x
  • 31
    Temperature and Reaction Rates
    Focus on the effect of temperature on reaction rates. Learn how to use the Arrhenius equation to calculate the activation energy for a reaction, and practice solving problems. For example, why does cooling food in a refrigerator reduce the spoilage so dramatically? x
  • 32
    Reaction Mechanisms and Catalysis
    Chemical reactions often take place in a series of steps, converting starting materials into intermediates, which are then converted into products. Each stage in this process has its own associated rate law. Learn how to analyze these steps, and consider a very special class of reactants: catalysts. x
  • 33
    The Back and Forth of Equilibrium
    What happens when reactions can be reversed? Study reactions that take place simultaneously in both directions, leading to a dynamic equilibrium. Focus on homogeneous equilibria, which involve reactants and products in the same phase. Close with an introduction to the reaction quotient. x
  • 34
    Manipulating Chemical Equilibrium
    Continue your study of gas-phase equilibria by investigating Le Chatelier's principle, which describes what happens when a chemical system is disturbed. Examine three different scenarios that employ this rule. Close by exploring a world-shaking application of Le Chatelier's principle. x
  • 35
    Acids, Bases, and the pH Scale
    Now turn to acids and bases. Review the search for the defining qualities of these ubiquitous substances-a quest that eluded scientists until independent discoveries made by J. N. Bronsted and T. M. Lowry in the 1920s. Then hear how chemist Soren Sorensen devised the pH scale for measuring acidity and basicity. x
  • 36
    Weak Acids and Bases
    In the previous lecture, you delved into strong acids and bases-those that ionize completely in solution. In this lecture, survey weak acids and bases, zeroing in on why they only partially ionize. Practice techniques for calculating their properties and concentrations in various solutions. x
  • 37
    Acid-Base Reactions and Buffers
    Mix things up by looking at what happens when acids and bases combine. See how a desired pH can be achieved through regulation of acid-base reactions. In the process, learn how to use the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation, which is indispensable in biology and medicine. x
  • 38
    Polyprotic Acids
    So far, you have focused on acids that donate a single hydrogen ion in an acid-base reaction. Now turn to polyprotic acids-those that donate more than one proton per molecule. Investigate the complex ionization processes that ensue, and see how they play a role in regulating blood pH. x
  • 39
    Structural Basis for Acidity
    Complete your study of acids and bases by searching out the fundamental causes of their disparate behavior. For example, why is there a difference in the ease with which various acids ionize? Your search draws on concepts from previous lectures, including electronegativity, molecular geometry, hybridization, and covalent bonding. x
  • 40
    Electron Exchange: Redox Reactions
    Encounter reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions, which involve the exchange of electrons between substances. Discover that this process explains geological events on the early Earth, including why iron in its metallic state is so rare in nature. Then explore associated phenomena, including the activity series of metals. x
  • 41
    Electromotive Force and Free Energy
    Meet three scientists who laid the foundations for electrochemistry. Robert Millikan measured the charge on the electron. Michael Faraday discovered the relationship between free energy and electrical potential. Walther Nernst formulated the relationship between redox potential and equilibrium constants. Their contributions paved the way for what came next. x
  • 42
    Storing Electrical Potential: Batteries
    Apply your understanding of electrochemistry to one of the most influential inventions of all time: the electrical storage battery. Trace the evolution of batteries from ancient times to Alessandro Volta's pioneering voltaic cell, developed in 1800, to today's alkaline, lithium, and other innovative battery technologies. x
  • 43
    Nuclear Chemistry and Radiation
    The energy stored in chemical bonds pales next to the energy holding atomic nuclei together. Look back to the gradual unlocking of the secrets of the nucleus, the discovery of radiation emanating from elements such as uranium, and the eventual harnessing of this phenomenon for weapons, electrical power, and medical treatments. x
  • 44
    Binding Energy and the Mass Defect
    Dig deeper into the nucleus to discover how so little matter can convert into the tremendous energy of a nuclear explosion, as described by Albert Einstein's famous mass-energy equation. Focus on nuclear binding energy and mass defect, both of which are connected to the release of nuclear energy. x
  • 45
    Breaking Things Down: Nuclear Fission
    In the 1940s, scientists worked out techniques for speeding up the radioactivity of uranium isotopes by means of a fission chain reaction. See this process modeled with an array of mousetraps, demonstrating how the reaction can be controlled in a reactor or unleashed catastrophically in a bomb. x
  • 46
    Building Things Up: Nuclear Fusion
    Revisit the nuclear energy binding curve, noting that most elements lighter than iron can release energy by fusing together. This is an even more energetic reaction than fission, and it is what powers the sun. Follow the development of fusion weapons and the so-far-unrealized dream of fusion reactors. x
  • 47
    Introduction to Organic Chemistry
    Launch into the first of three lectures on organic chemistry, which is the field dealing with carbon-based molecules, and understand why carbon makes such a versatile molecule. As an example, survey the incredible variety displayed by hydrocarbons, from bitumen (asphalt) to gasoline and methane. x
  • 48
    Heteroatoms and Functional Groups
    Hydrocarbons contain only hydrogen and carbon atoms. See how some of the hydrogen atoms can be replaced with new elements and groups of elements to create compounds with new properties. These heteroatoms and functional groups form virtually unlimited combinations of organic molecules. x
  • 49
    Reactions in Organic Chemistry
    Get a taste of one of the favorite challenges for organic chemists-turning one organic compound into another. Focus on three types of reactions from the many used in organic synthesis: substitution, elimination, and addition. Close by considering the vital role of water in organic chemistry. x
  • 50
    Synthetic Polymers
    Starting with the mystery of the ancient Mayan rubber ball, trace the story of polymer chemistry from lucky accidents to the advances of chemist Hermann Staudinger, who in the early 20th century showed that polymers are macromolecules. Learn how synthetic polymers are created. x
  • 51
    Biological Polymers
    Turn from synthetic polymers to biopolymers-those that occur naturally. Focus on polysaccharides, nucleic acids, and proteins (including a special class of proteins, enzymes). Discover that living systems exercise a level of control over the synthesis of these polymers that no chemist could ever hope to achieve in the lab. x
  • 52
    Medicinal Chemistry
    Probe the methods used by researchers to create molecules that can correct medical problems such as inflammation, bacterial infections, and cancer. As an example, study the lock-and-key model of enzyme activity, which explains how many enzymes work, highlighting a potential weak link that can be exploited by drugs. x
  • 53
    Poisons, Toxins, and Venoms
    Survey the types of chemicals that can harm human health. First, analyze the differences between a poison, a toxin, and a venom. Then, study examples of each, learning how arsenic disrupts ATP production, what makes nicotine deadlier than most people realize, and why venoms are typically complex proteins. x
  • 54
    Chemical Weapons
    Delve into the dark world of chemistry as a weapon of war. Crude chemical weapons were used in antiquity, but they didn't reach true sophistication and strategic significance until World War I. Profile the father of modern chemical warfare, chemist Fritz Haber, and look at the specific action of a number of deadly chemical agents. x
  • 55
    Tapping Chemical Energy: Fuels
    Explore the chemistry of fuels, which are materials that react with an oxidant to produce energy. Start with cellulose, the primary constituent of wood, then survey petroleum distillates, such as kerosene, diesel, and gasoline. Close by learning how plant oils can be used to make biodiesel, which behaves similarly to petroleum-based diesel. x
  • 56
    Unleashing Chemical Energy: Explosives
    Observe what happens at the molecular level that distinguishes fuel combustion from an explosion, and also learn what constitutes a detonation, which has a precise technical meaning. Survey explosives from gunpowder to nitroglycerin to TNT to plastic explosives, and study methods of detecting explosives. x
  • 57
    Chemistry of the Earth
    Take a short tour of geochemistry, starting at Earth's core and working your way to the surface. Discover why our planet has a magnetic field, how radioactive atoms move continents and build mountain ranges, and why digging a hole to extract resources can produce a chemical catastrophe. x
  • 58
    Chemistry of Our Oceans
    It is said that water covers 75% of Earth's surface. But chemists know better: more accurately, Earth's surface is bathed in an aqueous solution-a mixture of water and many different dissolved solutes. Focus on dissolved carbon dioxide, methane hydrates, and the quest to extract dissolved gold. x
  • 59
    Atmospheric Chemistry
    Now turn to the chemistry of the atmosphere, in particular the 1% composed of gases other than nitrogen and oxygen. Map the structure of the atmosphere, charting its temperature profile. Hear the good and bad news about ozone, and probe the cause of acid rain. x
  • 60
    Chemistry, Life, and the Cosmos
    Conclude the course by ranging beyond our planet to sample atoms and molecules in the cosmos. Specifically, search for two substances that are prerequisites for life: water and organic molecules. Both turn out to be plentiful, suggesting that the study of chemistry has a long and bright future! x

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Ron B. Davis Jr.

About Your Professor

Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D.
Georgetown University
Dr. Ron B. Davis, Jr. is an Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry at Georgetown University, where he has been teaching introductory organic chemistry laboratories since 2008. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to teaching chemistry at the undergraduate level, Professor Davis spent several years as a pharmaceutical research and development chemist. Professor Davis’s...
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Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 90.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well named The subject is presented well and I am learning the things i desired from the course.
Date published: 2020-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Chemistry Review, with Math Problems I took Chemistry in high school and college. Professor Davis explained Chemistry ideas in ways that I had not heard, before. I enjoyed his lectures. I have never thought of The Great Courses as being a substitute for in-class lectures, where you can ask questions, if necessary. From some of the reviews, it sounds like some people do think The Great Courses are a substitute for high school or college degree courses. Yes, there are some errors in these lectures, and yes, some of the ideas are opinions of the professors. However, as refresher courses or courses that give you an overview of these ideas, The Great Courses, I think, meet the average needs of the "Students". Professor Davis is flawless in his presentations. No pauses or added pause words that some speakers, including me, use to collect thoughts. He was a pleasure to listen to. He performed some "lab" experiments in his kitchen and did some that I had never seen, before. He does do end-of-lecture problems, which I did not care to do, since I got my fill in my previous chemistry studies. For those who want to know more about chemistry and love math, these assignments and their solutions are perfect. He does stress the important concept of making sure the units of each equation are balanced. You can't start off with kilogram units and end up in seconds per meter, after canceling. This is fundamental in chemistry. I enjoyed refreshing my previous chemistry knowledge and the new information I gleaned from Professor Davis' course. It helps if you have had some background in chemistry because some ideas are difficult to grasp. All in all, I would recommend this course to anyone who likes science and, specifically, chemistry.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too many errors and loud warning mar the lecture s I completed listening to Dr. Ron Davis’s chemistry lectures and was torn between a two star and a three star rating. Generally, the chemistry related information is accurate and reasonably well presented. The history and nuclear related information needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The recording has a ridiculous, ‘perform the experiments at your own risk’ lawyer’s warning before every lecture. This is bad enough, but the warning is much louder than the lectures themselves which makes them intolerable. The course provides an acceptable overview of many concepts, but has many errors. A modest sample: mercury amalgam was ‘melted’ before use. Actually, dental amalgams are made by mixing liquid mercury with other metal powders at room temperature. The lectures state that modern air conditioning/refrigeration doesn’t work by evaporating a liquid in the cold section and condensing it in a hot section. In fact, almost all cooling works on this refrigeration cycle. The working fluids/gases have changed over the years from cost effective, non-flammable freons to less ozone depleting freons and some flammable alternatives. The lectures indicate that alkaline batteries took over the market in the 50s. In actuality, acid carbon zinc batteries were more popular at least through the 60s. The nuclear history and nuclear physics presented are more incorrect than correct. Lectures- Enriched uranium for Little Boy was made by gaseous diffusion at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In actuality, ORNL didn’t exist during world war two. Enriched uranium was produced at Y-12 in high current spectrometers called calutrons. The gaseous diffusion plant at K-25 permitted shutting down the alpha (first stage) calutron lines in the summer of 1945. All the HEU for Little Boy came from beta calutrons. X-10, where ORNL is located now, had an air-cooled graphite moderated reactor that provided valuable information supporting Hanford reactor design. It is possible to tour the old reactor. I suggest that the course be edited by removing all of the nuclear related material, eliminating or turning down the lawyer’s warning, having one or more SMEs go through the lectures and eliminate or correct erroneous material.
Date published: 2020-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love this course. I find this course more interesting and detailed than the previous course that I took.
Date published: 2020-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from this is the best chemistry course...I have phd in chemical engineering in uc berkeley. good job mr. Davis
Date published: 2020-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough overview of chemistry. I am using this to study for the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) 218 Chemistry exam.
Date published: 2020-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent value Well presented and very interesting; tough going but this is a demanding subject. I have just completed all 60 lectures and you have to find some areas easier to chew through than others. There are enough anecdotes, lab demonstrations and good visual effects to keep you entertained enough to hang on in there. Happy with my purchase.
Date published: 2020-06-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Challenging and with frustrations, but worthwhile I last took lower division university chemistry courses (1A and 1B) over 50 years ago. I enjoyed them, did well, but eventually majored in math. So now that I’m retired, I thought I’d dive back into chemistry. About a half dozen lectures in, I was hitting some unfamiliar (or at least unremembered) substance. But I enjoyed the process of gaining new insights and understandings. This was one course where I definitely found it useful to listen to some lectures more than once, and try to work through at least some of the Challenge Problems and questions. This course can’t be rushed. So it took a while to get through 60 lectures – but I’m retired, and pretty much staying at home anyway in these days of Covid-19. Professor Davis is an excellent engaging lecturer, and the lab demonstrations were well done. But there were some issues, so I’m giving it four stars, not five. For one there, there is too much material for too little time. In a live university course, there occasionally might be time for questions and answers, or at least some T.A. office hours. Absent that, some things that might help are answers and complete explanations for the questions at the end of each lecture. It also would have helped to have an appendix of useful formulae, charts and diagrams, e.g., the Aufbau Chart, which is shown only during Lecture 6 but is nowhere in the Guidebook. Also, since I have the Guidebook only digitally, there should be a periodic table that I can view without turning my laptop screen (or my head) sideways. It was useful to copy and paste a periodic table separately for reference (or you could just print p. 8 of the Guidebook). And then I also have some problems with the material, with the big caveat that I’m no expert in this subject matter (that’s why I took the course). On p. 79 of the Guidebook, he presents a Lewis structure for carbon dioxide. But it’s different from the Lewis structure he puts on the board at 10:30 and 22:38 of the same Lecture 11. Why? At the end of that lecture one of the challenge problems includes coming up with a Lewis structure for sulfur dioxide. I was confused by the one he presented, since mine was different and it seemed that mine made perfect sense. So I went on line (Kahn Academy), and indeed found that there were two (at least) acceptable Lewis structures for sulfur dioxide. Similarly, one of the Challenge Problems at the end of Lecture 12 involves a Lewis structure for sulfur trioxide. The one I came up with was different, but again I was puzzled as to why mine was wrong. So again I went on line and saw a You-Tube video that ultimately came up with yet a third Lewis structure, which the presenter said was the “actual” Lewis structure for this molecule (and explained why his was right in terms of “formal charge”). If indeed there are different valid Lewis structures for the same molecule, or different ways to draw it, which apparently is the case, then Professor Davis could make that clearer. (I guess You-Tube, Kahn Academy, etc., are modern equivalents of T.A.’s, with much more flexible office hours.) Another frustration is that occasionally he would get through the material in the Guidebook, then present another topic or two with no reference at all to anything in the Guidebook (e.g., Lecture 57). The Guidebook also needed some more careful editing. For example, the reaction given at the top of page 333 (Lecture 45) has nothing at all to do with the lecture material. Clearly, he intended to put there the reaction he talks about in the lecture, which is completely different. At one point in Lecture 59, the Guidebook says “troposphere” where it seems it should have said “stratosphere” (which is what he says in the lecture). Overall, it was very challenging, and I enjoyed the challenge even with the occasional frustrations. But this course tries to cram a lot into 60 lectures. It might be better to break this down into two courses, maybe 36 lectures each (or even three courses of 24 or 30 lectures each), and be a bit more fulsome with the explanations and examples. Alternatively, some of the later lectures could be jettisoned (although I enjoyed them) in favor of fuller explorations in the earlier lectures. As it was, I found myself frequently checking out other sources to increase my understanding.
Date published: 2020-06-15
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