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Harry E. Pence
Chemistry Department, SUNY -Oneonta
Oneonta, NY 13820

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Fall 1992 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
Many chemistry instructors are discovering that it's possible to do rather complex computer applications in their classes without expensive hardware or complicated software. A popular way of accomplishing this is to adapt commonly available spreadsheet programs for chemical problems. Most of the popular spreadsheets, like Lotus, Quattro, and Excel, include not only excellent graphing capabilities but also the mathematical functions that are needed for most types of chemical calculations. In addition, these programs are often available in inexpensive student editions and are relatively easy to learn.
Those who wish to pursue this approach need a textbook that teaches spreadsheet fundamentals using chemical examples. Such a book can both serve as a source of homework problems and also minimize the lecture time which an instructor must spend discussing how to use the spreadsheet. The two books reviewed in this column provide exactly this type of support. It should also be noted that those instructors who use a computer during their lectures will find these books to be sources of simple, but effective computer simulations, which make a useful lecture supplement.
SPREADSHEET CHEMISTRY by 0. Jerry Parker and Gary L. Breneman Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1991 288 pages, softcover, $22.00
The book should be useful with a variety of the commonly encountered spreadsheets and/ or general chemistry texts. The spreadsheets in the book are intended to be used with the DOS version of Microsoft Excel, and disks are available with the data in either the IBM or Macintosh versions of Excel. Beyond that, it shouldn't be too difficult to translate the instructions into one of the other commonly used software packages. The order of the topics is designed to correspond to that in Brown, LeMay, and Bursten's Chemistry: The Central Science, but it shouldn't create serious difficulty if the topics are rearranged to suit the sequence found in most standard General Chemistry textbooks.
The authors start with simple problem types that are commonly treated at the beginning of a general chemistry course, such as temperature conversions and density, and use these topics to introduce the student to basic spreadsheet techniques. The fundamentals of using Excel are also discussed in several appendices. As one proceeds through the book, the topics become more involved and the spreadsheet use also becomes more complex. Some support from the lecture and/ or lab practice sessions should be enough to allow most students to develop reasonable facility with the software. The descriptions include both the conrnand text to be placed in the cells as well as a copy showing what the resulting worksheet should look like. Each chapter concludes with a good selection of problems that can be best handled with a spreadsheet, and appendices are included that briefly discuss successive approximations and the Newton Raphson Method.
This book is quite useful, both for learning spreadsheet techniques and also as a reference. The discussions are clear, there is an adequate index, and the many diagrams are a significant complement to the text. The discussion of the chemical background for each topic is brief, but it's more than adequate if a student needs a quick review of a specific point while working on the spreadsheet. It's a pleasure to recommend this book. DYNAMIC MODELS IN CHEMISTRY by Daniel E. Atkinson, et ai.N. Simonson & Company, Marina del Rey, California, 1990,320 pages, softcover, $19.95
There are many similarities between this book and that which is reviewed above. Both are intended for students in the introductory chemistry course, can be used with a variety of spreadsheets, and invite the reader to order spreadsheet diskettes in either the MS DOS or Macintosh formats. This book doesn't follow the standard set of topics from freshman chemistry as closely as the book by Parker and Breneman. It omits some topics, such as atomic structure and orbitals, but does add some additiona! topics, such as fractional distillation and extraction, that may also be helpful.
Atkinson et al make extensive use of sidebars to highlight important ideas. For example, each chapter begins with a sidebar that briefly lists the prerequisite knowledge necessary for the upcoming exercises. Other sidebars discuss specific points of concern regarding the model discussed or show sample graphs of the resulting data. This approach, which lets the reader decide hc:m much help is needed at a given point in the discussion, is welcome. On the other hand, it's regrettable to find that a book that will be used as a reference lacks an index.
It can be argued, and I believe that the authors of both of these books would probably agree, that the most important aspect of spreadsheet use is not just solving problems but rather building a model that can be used to explore a topic in much more detail than would be possible if each individual calculation must be done by hand. If students can be encouraged to interact with chemistry in this way, regardless of whether it's done in lecture or on their own, they will be much more likely to understand chemistry rather than simply memorizing a set of algorithms for commonly encountered problem types. This book includes a number of problems that invite this type of exploration, and this is one of its strengths.
Both of these books providesan excellent basis for eitherstudents or faculty who wish to explore spreadsheet applications in chemistry. This reviewer uses Parker and Breneman somewhat  more, but both books are well worth owning.
Since this column will be my last as the book review editor for "The Newsletter," I wish to take this opportunity to express my thanks to everyone who has helped with reviews and suggestions during the past few years. Even though I can't mention all of you by name, I do wish to offer a special word of appreciation to Don Rosenthal, who first invited me to undertake this job and has helped me so often. I welcome the new book review editor, Larry Julien from Michigan Technological University, and wish him good luck as he begins his new job.
-End- BYE Harry.


11/02/92 to 11/08/92