Department of Chemistry
A Pioneer in Chemistry Education
Students in a chemistry lab in Smith Labs, part of the College's Integrated Science Complex which was completed in 2010.
The “Discovery Chemistry” lab-based guided inquiry style of teaching began at Holy Cross, and serves as a model for the national chemistry education community.
It ensures that students are exposed to the same processes and structure that scientists use to support their creative insights. Students participate in a teaching and learning experience that parallels the scientific method itself. Cooperative efforts by the students in both obtaining and evaluating data support Discovery Chemistry — a curriculum that features introduction of many chemical concepts in the laboratory rather than the lecture.
The approach to teaching chemistry at Holy Cross is distinct from most schools, in that it integrates lecture and lab, with lab driving the course in order to introduce concepts through student application of the scientific method, as done in research.
The following is an excerpt of an article published in the Journal of Chemistry Education that describes the Discovery Chemistry approach authored by two former chemistry faculty members at Holy Cross.
“Discover Chemistry: A Laboratory-Based Approach to General Chemistry”
By Mauri A. Ditzler and Robert W. Ricci
College students often associate chemistry with a collection of facts and theories rather than an ongoing, participatory process for creating knowledge. Too many believe their ability to benefit from or contribute to introductory chemistry is determined by the factual foundation they bring from high school. Few first-year students see chemistry as a field that will allow them to develop and express their intellectual creativity. To counter this perception, chemistry faculty nationwide are engaged in a concerted effort to develop introductory courses that present chemistry as a dynamic and developing discipline that values both creativity and collaboration.
At The College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Mass.) the chemistry department has been experimenting since 1989 with a laboratory-based, process-oriented curriculum called Discovery Chemistry (Ricci and Ditzler, 1991; Ditzler and Ricci, 1994; Jarret and McMaster, 1994). Our approach is based on the philosophy that chemistry teaching should parallel the chemists' approach to investigating nature. Practicing chemists draw heavily from a widely accepted body of knowledge, making extensive use of the literature and their colleagues' expertise. In the end, however, the proof is provided by experimental evidence. In a similar fashion, the Discovery Chemistry program focuses the learning experience on laboratory exercises that use a guided-inquiry format. In these exercises students work individually and cooperatively to generate data that is pooled and analyzed to discover fundamental aspects of the discipline. While Discovery Chemistry is novel in that it places the student within a community that is actively creating knowledge from well-crafted experiments we still draw heavily from traditional instructional tools such as lectures and textbook assignments. Furthermore, the instructor still plays an active role, however his or her focus includes ensuring that students are exposed to the same processes and structure that scientists use to support their creative insights.
Select Discovery Chemistry Articles
Since its inception in 1989, Holy Cross faculty members have authored numerous articles in the Journal of Chemical Education detailing the successes of the Discovery Chemistry approach.
- May 1994: “The Holy Cross Discovery Chemistry Program” (PDF)
- August 1994: “Discovery Chemistry: Balancing Creativity and Structure” (PDF)
- November 1994: “Discovering the Beer-Lambert Law” (PDF)
- December 1994: “Teaching Organic Chemistry with Student-Generated Information” (PDF)
- May 1995: “Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution Discovery Lab” (PDF)
- January 1997: “Reactions of Bromine with Diphenylethylenes: An Introduction to Electrophilic Substitution” (PDF)
- March 1999: ”Discovery Chemistry: A Laboratory-Centered Approach to Teaching General Chemistry” (PDF)
- October 1999: “Using Data Pooling to Measure the Density of Sodas: An Introductory Discovery Experiment” (PDF)
- September 2001: “Looking beyond the endo Rule in a Diels–Alder Discovery Lab” (PDF)
- February 2007: “Thermochemical Analysis of Neutralization Reactions: An Introductory Discovery Experiment” (PDF)
- August 2008: “Introducing Undergraduate Students to Electrochemistry: A Two-Week Discovery Chemistry Experiment” (PDF)
- August 2008: “Data Pooling in a Chemical Kinetics Experiment: The Aquation of a Series of Cobalt(III) Complexes” (PDF)
Note: If these papers do not open directly from the links you should check with your institution that you have access to the Journal of Chemical Education.
The large size of our department provides an opportunity for a diverse set of courses including nanotechnology, synthetic organic chemistry, molecular pharmacology, biophysical chemistry, spectroscopy, and applications of analytical chemistry.
The department is housed in Haberlin Hall and Smith Labs, part of the College's Integrated Science Complex which was completed in 2010. Faculty helped to design the state-of-the-art facility, to help match their teaching methods. Students use modern instrumentation throughout the curriculum preparing them for the workforce or graduate school.
Students graduating with a major in chemistry go on to a variety of careers. In recent years, the majority of graduates attend health-related professional schools (medical, dental, veterinary, etc.) or top-ranked graduate schools to focus on an area of chemistry.
The chemistry department is ranked fifth among 410 liberal arts schools between 2000 and 2012 in the baccalaureate origin of PhDs in chemistry, according to the National Science Foundation.