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Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works

Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works

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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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86% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1350
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn the units for dealing with matter at the atomic scale.
  • Consider how atoms and molecules can create, consume, and transport the most vital commodity in the universe: energy.
  • Investigate the physical properties that define the most common phases of matter: solids, liquids, and gases.
  • 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 a desired pH can be achieved through regulation of acid-base reactions.
  • 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
 |  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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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 60 lectures on 10 DVDs
  • 472-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 472-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Chemistry and Our Universe: How It All Works is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 29.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good review of a topic that could take volumes A very well organized, and concise discussion of basic, yet very important chemical concepts
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was hesitant to purchase this course... I feared shiny things, "the new math", or a "soft" approach to science. What I found was a solid background in chemical theory and very high production quality. Pros: 1.) General: Tightly and coherently scripted; stellar targeted demonstrations; summaries at the beginning and reviews at the end of each lecture. Davis' frequent referrals to earlier lectures ensure you're paying attention. CGI was a tremendous effort that made crystallography, etc much easier than trying to mentally 3D. Davis' repeated orientations to scale (micro vs macro) as we go in and out of the atomic and physical world levels are a great technique. 2.) Davis' multitude of real-life introductions to topics was wonderful. My favorite was the stoichiometry of camel fat turning tristearin into water and CO2 making ancient trade routes possible. 3.) Davis helps immensely when he points out WHY certain things are important to remember. EX: Molarity, molality, mole fractions, & mass% are often the bane of many young scientists. Davis clearly tells us which situations would call for each form and why. 4.) The last 19 lectures are not "university depth" but rather introductory lectures to other fields involving chemistry. However, they were excellent fun. His comments on environmental chemistry were cautiously factual rather than politically presented. 5.) Davis cleverly reminds us that science is approximate reality not absolute truth: EX: L13: "Hand & Mulliken's (molecular orbital) theories are just models working in certain circumstances" L43: no one knows why nuclei stick together, L51: "Living systems exercise control over synthesis that no chemist could ever hope to achieve in a beaker" L 57: "...touring the most fantastic lab ever created - our environment" L 60 "Can't make DNA w/o RNA, nor RNA w/o proteins: a classic circular reasoning." CONS 1.) There are no notes on the last (most advanced) 20% of many lectures in the otherwise outstanding 460 page guidebook. Consider a transcript or take notes. Quibbles 1.) I agree: the onscreen text is too small but was needed because of the text length of most problems. Fortunately, the professor reads the text. 2.) There are a few slide errors. EX: L31 Rate Law challenge problem slide error: k1 = (226)(k2) ...not the reverse, because k2 was the known. EX L38 Ka1 equation error on polyprotic acid slide 3.) "New math" events: [a.] In deriving the Ideal Gas Laws L22, Davis treats Avagadro's law proportionality in an entirely opposite way from Boyle's law and explains it off "as doing some additional operations". The answer came out right, but the explanation was not satisfactory. Although the derivation of the Ideal Gas Law can actually be rather sophisticated, it is much simpler to consider Boyles', Charles', and Avagadro's laws as equations with proportionality constants. Thus V = (k1)(1/P); V = (k2)(T); and V = (k3)(n). Therefore V= (K4)(Tn/P) or PV=NRT after R is substituted for k4 [b.] The L30 "new math" explanation of first/second order reactions was better explained in L31. Summary: If you want to be happy about Chemistry get this course. If you want to get paid for chemistry, Cardulla's "Chemistry" (which comes with a workbook) will flesh out your math skills. A crib sheet of important formulae and constants makes solving the course problems easier. If you are a college chemistry student with a thin wallet, consider the free 1256 page PDF download of the 13th/2015 Edition of Chemistry (Brown, LeMay, and Bursten) online as it appears to be Davis' primary reference.
Date published: 2017-02-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sounds good. Very unsatisfied with this course. The Professor was a good lecturer but produced information requiring extensive background in chemistry to understand. Illustrations were poor, difficult to see, fuzzy and indistinct and predisposing a deep knowledge of subjects he was expected to teach.
Date published: 2017-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It was a fun learning experience The catalog description of the course made it sound like it would take you on a journey of vast reaching answers to any question out there. It piqued my interest so I took the plunge. In reality it was that and much more. At the beginning of the lecture series, Professor Davis asks the question “Is chemistry the science of everything?” and in the ensuing lectures he goes about proving that it is. I have never taken a chemistry course before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I found that the subject as it was presented was very engaging. Each lecture built upon the knowledge learned from the previous ones in a logical manner so that comprehension of complex subjects could be grasped as I never expected myself to be able to do. The lecture series was filmed in such a manner that you felt you had your own personal tutor guiding you through the material. Professor Davis always looked into the camera and talked directly to me unless he was directing my attention to a graphic or display off to the side. He never looked down at notes or a script which kept my attention focused. The presentation was so much better than filming a live lecture would have been. Other reviewers have commented that they did not like the set in which the presentation was made. I liked the set and felt that it added rather than took away from the experience. I especially liked the dozens of graphics, animations and demonstrations that helped to cement the many complex concepts that the lectures covered. Professor Davis’ authoritative yet casual manner was key to the success of my understanding. And although I’m not a history buff, I appreciated learning about the men and women that have contributed to the science in the past. As at least one reviewer mentioned, they were disturbed that Mr. Davis had the same clothes on for all 60 lectures. (Really?) Certainly if you find it disturbing that there is no change of wardrobe throughout the series, then you should probably pass on this one. But you would be missing out on a rewarding venture. I really can’t say enough about how well this program was put together and executed. I certainly don’t have any recommendations of how the lecture series could have been any better.
Date published: 2017-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding program! I have only watched 3 lectures, but I am very impressed so far. The teacher is great and the material covered is very interesting.
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Clear and engaging I bought this for a refreshing and a study tool for two different people. The speaking is engaging, the example problems are clear and the topic coverage is really helpful.
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I’ve not had any formal study of chemistry since long ago when I was a college freshman studying physics and math (I can still remember the frustration of quantitative and qualitative analysis labs every Saturday from 8 to noon for those two semesters). With that in mind, I thought that Professor Davis’ new survey course would fill in the gaps in my knowledge and understanding. Even so I was surprised at the amount of territory covered and the depth that Dr. Davis brought to several subjects. This course and his lectures covered more and were generally more extensive (lab work excepted) than my 8 meager hours back in the dawn of time. Some areas, such as organic chemistry) I knew almost nothing and found the topics of sufficient interest that I will get his organic chemistry course), while others were reasonably familiar to me. On the less than perfect side, I thought that the two introductory lectures were way too elementary, but it must be said that the pace picked up rapidly. For example, Dr. Davis often assumed that everything that he had said previously was completely adsorbed by the student—he wasted no time in iterating what had come before. Strangely, I found the last few lectures to not be rigorous enough, as though the topics were too difficult and complex to be examined more closely. To be fair, however, more rigor there would have extended the course by several more lectures. The set for me was reminiscent of a minimalist Star Trek set (not sure if that is good or bad). Professor Davis was a competent speaker, never stumbling, although the studied mannerisms frequently turning for new camera angles. I became annoyed with the never-ending warnings to not try experiments at home, though I suppose TTC lawyers insisted. I think that this would be a great course for anyone interested in science and how the world works. Knowledge of basic algebra and logarithms is probably necessary and at least high school chemistry as well in order to understand the course. Integral calculus would be helpful, though not necessary for one or two lectures, but no more. Professor Davis gives the equations, but does not go through the math, so not very much math background is needed in order to understand the material presented in the course. The last few lectures would be a good introduction to TTC “Origins of Life” course. A very sound, extensive survey course.
Date published: 2017-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Overview of Chemistry - with flaws To be fair, I have to state up front that I have not viewed this course in its entirety. I have watched the first 36 lectures, with the exclusion of #34, then watched the last eight lectures 53-60. That said, I feel I have seen enough to offer a fair and informative review. I have not taken a formal chemistry class since high school, of which I remember almost nothing. This course appears to fulfill its purpose successfully. It presents the subject in a clear yet comprehensive manner, starting with the basics and assuming no prior understanding. Prof. Davis wastes little time getting right into the meat of the subject, and does a good job of explaining and easing the viewer into more complex ideas. He is a first rate presenter and lecturer with near perfect speaking skills and clear diction, and is unencumbered with annoying verbal ticks, monotone speech, or excessive hand gestures. He displays a friendly and inviting lecture style that helps to dispel any apprehension the viewer might have for the complex subject matter. One immediately gets the impression that he is clearly at ease with and in command of his subject. The supplementary text and graphic information is well designed and executed, except for some specific cases which I detail later in the review. The occasional cut-aways to the separate lab experiments are always interesting and informative. The breakdown and categorization of the subject matter is clearly defined and presented in a logical and comprehensible manner. The information content of this course appears to be complete, but probably insufficient to provide a competent and functional grasp of the subject. After about the first 12-13 lectures I found myself seeking out extra sources of information to get a proper and complete comprehension of the subject. As other reviewers have stated, many of these lectures serve as more of an review of specific topics rather than a detailed discourse. I would highly recommend the serious student find a solid Chemistry textbook, and use these lectures as a supplementary illumination or reinforcement of the concepts. I resorted to an online Chemistry textbook that provided the adequate detail and rigor that is missing from many of these lectures. Aside from that short-coming, this course is probably more than adequate for the casual learner that simply wants a solid comprehensive view of chemistry. I skipped to the last 8 or 9 lectures when I reached a point at which my comprehension was failing. The last 9 lectures appear to be special interest topics of applications. I refer to them this way since they tend to dispense with the technical rigor of the previous lectures, and discuss practical overviews of broader more familiar subjects. Though they might be regarded as filler to complete a full 60 lecture outline, they are welcome inclusions that help put a more applicable face on a complex subject. I found them to be enlightening and informative without getting lost in too much technical detail. And now for the negative attributes of this course. Point one - the virtual set. To be blunt, it is a gawd-awful eyesore. The environmental background is cluttered, chaotic, and visually distracting. Worst of all, the stark white lines and high contrast elements of the set clashes with the popup text and graphics that appear next to the lecturer making them difficult to read. In a complex, technical course such as this, the information should be King and the primary focus of attention. The function of the background should be to complement and enhance the information not compete with it. Please lose the abstract, modern architecture. Point two - the graphic text. The aesthetic sensibility of the persons in charge of the on-screen text is highly questionable. Very often the size of the text in the full-screen graphic displays are close to unreadable, and to make matters worse, the hilited text is surrounded by a bright, neon color that clashes with the text white color turning it into an iridescent, illegible blob. In some cases, such as in lecture 33, the text is surrounded by dark grey or charcoal outline set against a darker background, which causes the text to practically disappear. Subtlety appears to be a dirty word to the graphic artists at The Great Courses. There needs to be a detached 3rd party that can dispassionately review these elements and say "whats wrong with this picture?". The editors are apparently too carried away with their own creative urges to properly judge their own work. It seems like every new release has a different style of presentation, for better or worse. I think it would behove the creative team to settle on a standard of presentation and stick with it until it no longer works. After viewing more than 40, mostly technical lectures, in the past 10 years, I would judge Prof. Bruce Edwards' Multivariable Calculus course to be close to perfect in terms of presentation and graphic display. Despite the complex nature of the subject matter, that course is one of the most comprehensible and easy to watch of any that I have seen. Prof. Stephen Ressler's architecture and engineering courses fall into that category as well. I own Prof. Davis' Organic Chemistry course as well, and I find that easier to watch than this course. The graphic presentations are less cluttered and easier to interpret and comprehend. If I were to offer any negative assessment of the informational content of this chemistry course, it might be that the writers spend a bit too much time on exposition and build up to the main subject at the beginning of each lecture, rather than spending that valuable time getting to the point. Considering the complex nature of this course, overall I qualify it a worthwhile and valuable resource of information. It is one of those courses that will maintain its value over time simply because there is so much information to absorb. It will stand-up to multiple viewings without becoming too familiar, stale or irrelevant. I awarded it only 4 stars on account of the flawed textual graphic and background set aesthetics.
Date published: 2017-01-19
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