Physics teachers were fortunate enough to have David Goodstein's The Mechanical Universe (College and High School) at their disposal, to be used at their discretion. Better yet, they had Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics Alive!. All of these were in-depth, course-long series that covered nearly all the topics in introductory physics.
Surely there must be similarly comprehensive series in chemistry.
Or not. Somehow the Goodsteins and Hewitts of chemistry either don't exist or have not had such good fortune in getting any comprehensive series green-lit. Talk to me, my colleagues in chemistry: what went wrong? If there's something missing from the list that follows, let me know.
What we do have is a couple of chemistry mini-series and one-offs that are delightful and work well in the chemistry curriculum. Here's what I've found so far.
Nuclear physicist and polished science communicator, Jim Al-Khalili, wanted to know how we came to our present understanding of the elements. This is the story he found, in three parts, as produced for BBC Four.
1. THE DISCOVERY OF THE ELEMENTSThe story of how the elements were discovered and mapped begins with the alchemists who questioned that the world was made up of earth, air, fire and water.2. THE ORDER OF THE ELEMENTSThe early scientists' bid to decode the order of the elements was driven by false starts and bitter disputes.3. THE POWER OF THE ELEMENTSBreakthroughs harnessed elements' ability to release vast power, showing how scientists are trying to create new elements.
Prolific tech writer and ebullient media personality, David Pogue, dove deep into the realm of chemistry for this two-hour NOVA special.
Where do nature's building blocks, called the elements, come from? They're the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. To unlock their secrets, spin through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe's most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second.
A decade after Hunting the Elements, David Pogue returned to the chemistry lab to explore the world of molecules in this three-part NOVA mini-series.
1. REACTIONSJust about every solid, liquid, or gas in the world as we know it begins with reactions between individual atoms and molecules. It's the transformative world of chemical reactions, from the complex formula that produces cement to the single reaction that’s allowed farmers to feed a global population by the billions—a reaction that when reversed, unleashes the powerful chemistry of high explosives2. INDESTRUCTIBLEGlass so strong you can jump on it, a rubber-like coating tough enough to absorb a bomb blast, endless varieties of plastic. Scientists and engineers have created virtually indestructible versions of common materials by manipulating the chains of interlocking atoms that give them strength—but have they made them too tough? Explore the fantastic chemistry behind the everyday materials we depend on, and how the quest for durability can be balanced with products’ environmental impact.3. LIFEWithout the chemistry of photosynthesis, ozone, and a molecule called Rubisco, none of us would be here. So how did we get so lucky? Investigate the surprising molecules that allowed life on Earth to begin, and ultimately thrive. Along the way, find out what we’re all made of—literally.
Chemistry and physics commingle in Jim Al-Khalili's brilliant account of how we came to our current understanding of atomic structure. This is a three-part mini-series produced for BBC Four.
1. CLASH OF TITANSThe modern understanding of the atom unfolded in the early years of the twentieth century. Baffling discoveries made by ingenious experimental scientists challenged the foremost theoretical physicists of the era. Rival factions fought over competing models. The players were human, with human strengths and weaknesses. Hard-fought victories were matched by crushing defeats. At the end of it all, a contemporary model of the atom emerged.2. THE KEY TO THE COSMOSThe mystery of the universe has been largely resolved by our understanding of the atomic nucleus. In less than 100 years, we unlocked the secrets of its structure and origins. The correlation between cosmic abundance and nuclear stability was astonishing and unexpected. But there were stinging philosophical between divided factions and an irreversible taint of sin visited upon scientists along the way.3. THE ILLUSION OF REALITYWith models of the atom and the nucleus in place, there was need to reconcile quantum mechanics with relativity. The next step was to generalize that reconciliation more broadly. When new and exotic particles burst onto the scene, a deeper structure was called for. As we move from the work Einstein and Bohr, through Dirac, to Feynman and Gell-Mann, we exchange our notions of vacuums and subatomic particles for the curiouser notions of quantum foam and quarks. And we realize our perception of reality is an illusion.
THE WORLD OF CHEMISTRY WITH ROALD HOFFMANN in progress
Journey through the exciting world of chemistry with Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann as your guide. The foundations of chemical structures and their behavior are explored through computer animation, demonstrations, and on-site footage at working industrial and research labs. This series was produced in 1988.
1. THE WORLD OF CHEMISTRYThe relationships of chemistry to the other sciences and to everyday life are presented.2. COLORThe search for new colors in the mid 1800s boosted the development of modern chemistry.3. MEASUREMENT: THE FOUNDATION OF CHEMISTRYThe distinction between accuracy and precision and its importance in commerce and science are explained.4. MODELING THE UNSEENModels are used to explain phenomena that are beyond the realm of ordinary perception.5. A MATTER OF STATEMatter is examined in its three principal states—gases, liquids, and solids—relating the visible world to the submicroscopic.6. THE ATOMViewers journey inside the atom to appreciate its architectural beauty and grasp how atomic structure determines chemical behavior.
7. THE PERIODIC TABLEThe development and arrangement of the periodic table of elements is examined.8. CHEMICAL BONDSThe differences between ionic and covalent bonds are explained by the use of scientific models and examples from nature.9. MOLECULAR ARCHITECTUREThe program examines isomers and how the electronic structure of a molecule's elements and bonds affects its shape and physical properties.10. SIGNALS FROM WITHINChemists' knowledge of the interaction of radiation and matter is the basis for analytical methods of sensitivity and specificity.11. THE MOLEUsing Avogadro's law, the mass of a substance can be related to the number of particles contained in that mass.12. WATERThe special chemical properties of water are explored, along with the need for its protection and conservation.
13. THE DRIVING FORCESEndothermic and exothermic reactions are investigated and the role of entropy is revealed.14. MOLECULES IN ACTIONObserving molecules during chemical reactions helps explain the role of catalysts. Dynamic equilibrium is also demonstrated.15. THE BUSY ELECTRONThe principles of electrochemical cell design are explained through batteries, sensors, and a solar-powered car.16. THE PROTON IN CHEMISTRYDemonstrations explain pH and how it is measured, and the important role of acids and bases.17. THE PRECIOUS ENVELOPEThe earth's atmosphere is examined through theories of chemical evolution; ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect are explained.18. THE CHEMISTRY OF THE EARTHSilicon, a cornerstone of the high-tech industry, is one of the elements of the Earth highlighted in this program.
Series Four in progress
19. METALSMalleability, ductility, and conductivity are examined, along with methods for extracting metals from ores and blending alloys.20. ON THE SURFACESurface science examines how surfaces react with each other at the molecular level.21. CARBONThe versatility of carbon's molecular structures and the enormous range of properties of its compounds are presented.22. THE AGE OF POLYMERSHow chemists control the molecular structure to create polymers with special properties is explored.23. PROTEINS: STRUCTURE AND FUNCTIONThe program examines proteins—polymers built from only 20 basic amino acids.24. THE GENETIC CODEThe structure and role of the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, are investigated.25. CHEMISTRY AND THE ENVIRONMENTDump site waste management demonstrates chemistry's benefits and problems.26. FUTURESInterviews with leaders from academia and industry explore the frontiers of chemical research.
We live in an age when technological innovation seems to be limitlessly soaring. But for all the satisfying speed with which our gadgets have improved, many of them share a frustrating weakness: the batteries. Even though there have been some improvements in last century, batteries remain finicky, bulky, expensive, toxic and maddeningly short-lived. The quest is on for a "super battery," and the stakes in this hunt are much higher than the phone in your pocket. With climate change looming, electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could hold keys to a greener future... if we can engineer the perfect battery. In Search for the Super Battery, renowned gadget geek and host David Pogue explores the hidden world of energy storage, from the power--and danger--of the lithium-ion batteries we use today, to the bold innovations that could one day charge our world. He wants to uncover what the future of batteries has in store for our gadgets, our lives - and even our planet. Might the lowly battery be the breakthrough technology that changes everything?
This episode emphasizes chemistry: atoms and where they come from. The simple act of making an apple pie is extrapolated into the atoms and subatomic particles (electrons, protons, and neutrons) necessary. Many of the ingredients necessary are formed of chemical elements formed in the life and deaths of stars (such as our own Sun), resulting in massive red giants and supernovae or collapsing into white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, and even black holes. These produce all sorts of phenomena, such as radioactivity, cosmic rays, and even the curving of spacetime by gravity.
What would the universe look like if you were a billion times smaller or a billion times bigger? In this mind-bending series, Jim Al-Khalili will look at the universe across its vast range of size, ranging from the tiniest objects measuring just a few atoms, to vast structures consisting of hundreds of thousands of interconnected galaxies. Investigating these astonishing objects will reveal fundamental truths about our universe. At the end of each film, the audience will see the largest structures ever discovered in the universe and the smallest objects whose images scientists have managed to capture to date.