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A recovering organic chemist's attempts at self-realization: How students learn to solve organic synthesis problems

Purdue University
Publication Date
  • Chemistry
  • General|Education
  • Sciences
  • Chemistry


Proposing a synthesis scheme on paper requires the chemist to employ a variety of skills in a non-linear and recursive fashion. Included among these are visualization of 3D structures from 2D representations and knowledge of functional reactivity, as well as reactions and their mechanisms. Each of these skills, in turn, requires the understanding of one or more fundamental chemical principles. The magic of the expert is how he or she creatively combines these separate aspects of a synthetic problem to produce elegant and experimentally effective solutions. ^ On the premise that graduate students mature as problem solvers while members of a research group, this research used an ethnomethodological approach to understand how students become acculturated to the synthetic organic chemistry community as they learn to solve organic synthesis problems. ^ The findings of this research indicated that the environment of the research group helped make the subject “real” in the minds of the students. Once this happened, the students became more active learners, and, thereby, constructed meaning regarding heuristics that practicing organic chemists routinely use. Finally, the results of this study suggest that the students needed an activity—such as a class project or their own research—to serve as a concrete scaffold for knowledge construction. ^

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