We have been working on three new initiatives in teaching.
1. Collaborative Teaching Across Universities
The thinnest portion of graduate curricula is often in the offerings of “special topics” courses aimed at beginning graduate students. Realizing that we might be able to team up with our national and international collaborators to improve the situation, we began teaching special topics courses, shared among faculty at Duke, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Each participating faculty member is responsible for a portion of the course and all sites participate via WebEx software, with Android, SurfacePro or iPad/Reflector tablets that provide whiteboard capabilities, and high-quality audio (noise canceling speaker/mics are a must). The speed and reliablility of the internet make this approach simpler and easier than one might guess, and the students enjoy interacting with a diverse group of collaborators, some of whom will become research collaborators and mentors in future months. The activity is helping us learn how to cultivate and strengthen multi-University collaborative teams, just as we do in our “real” research programs, and this approach may produce sustainable strategies to enrich Chemistry curricula across the country with a modest investment of faculty time. Andrea Novicki blogged about our experiment in the Fall of 2013. In Spring 2016, the class included collaborators at Temple, Tulane, Duke, Pitt, CMU, Nankai University (China), University of Freiburg (Germany), University of Cyprus (Cyprus), and University of Puerto Rico. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation and by a Duke Arts & Sciences grant for “Collaborative Teaching Through Research Across Institutions.”
2. Quantum Dynamics … with the Dynamics!
Computer tools for solving equations of motion are making numerical “experiments” and “demonstrations” quite accessible to the physical chemistry classroom. For example, a few lines of code can be used to show the difference between adiabatic and non-adiabatic crossings without enduring the pain of the associated algebraic manipulations. Similarly, a carrier can be injected into a 1D tight-binding chain and and the velocity of the carrier probed as a function of band width, band gap, etc. Simple demonstrations using these tools catalyze discussion of physical principles and enable active learning. With Nick Polizzi, we have developed an interactive textbook that uses Wolfram’s “Computable Document Format” (CDF) to provide an introduction to quantum dynamics (please download the free CDF Player version 126.96.36.199 or later here; a Mathematica license is not required to use this material). The textbook, Quantum Dynamics … with the Dynamics, is self contained, including an introduction to the theory in each chapter, shows Mathematica implementations of the equations of motion, and guides the students’ discovery. The materials are available as Supporting Information on the J. Chem. Ed. page here. (Fonts can be installed on your Mac using Font Book.)
3. Biophysical Chemistry and Biophysics
Over the last several years, we have been reimagining the Biophysical Chemistry course. In many chemistry departments, this course has focused largely on biomolecular structure and spectroscopy. Using some excellent new textbooks, we are bending the course toward the function of biomolecules and their assemblies. Since 2016, we have been teaching the coure in a “flipped” team-based leanring mode.
4. Course Syllabi
Biophysical Chemistry (Chem 302), Spring 2017
Special Topics in Chemistry: Frontiers of Electron Transfer Chemistry (Chem 590), Spring 2016, taught collaboratively over the web
Special Topics in Chemistry: Introduction to the Theory of Complex Materials (Chem 590), Fall 2014, taught collaboratively over the web