King’s researcher featured in international chemistry journal
Research by a chemistry professor at The King’s University was published March 29 in one of the prestigious science journals in the Nature family of academic journals.
King’s Professor Dr. Peter Mahaffy co-authored "Reorienting chemistry education through systems thinking" featured in Nature Reviews Chemistry with Professors Stephen Matlin, Alain Krief, Henning Hopf, and Goverdhan Mehta, all affiliated with the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) in Belgium. The paper calls for reorienting how chemistry is taught using systems thinking so that students can better understand how the knowledge of chemistry relates to a winder understanding of the field and its connection to other disciplines.
The publication highlights the challenges faced by students who study chemistry as a component of their required coursework for a variety of majors. Students are often overwhelmed by the presentation of numerous isolated facts and have difficulty seeing the central importance of chemistry in addressing 21st Century challenges such as rapid environmental change, the provision of clean energy and water, improving human health, and meeting global sustainable development goals.
“Systems thinking describes approaches that move beyond the fragmented knowledge of disciplinary thinking to a more holistic understanding of the field,” noted Mahaffy. “Systems approaches are well known in engineering and biology, but not in chemistry education.”
This publication lays the groundwork for the work of a task force of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which brings together 18 global leaders in chemistry education with the goal of developing learning objectives and strategies for integrating systems thinking into first-year undergraduate general chemistry courses.
Mahaffy co-chairs the IUPAC task force with Prof. Stephen Matlin from IOCD and the Institute of Global Health Development at Imperial College London. The IUPAC project team will meet in person at the July 2018 International Conference on Chemistry Education in Sydney, Australia, where systems thinking will be featured in a plenary talk by Mahaffy and Matlin, as well as in a symposium and a workshop.
“The global chemistry education community is ready for a paradigm change,” said Mahaffy. “We are setting the stage to support fundamental reform in what first-year students of chemistry learn, and how they learn it.”
Examples of systems thinking approaches in chemistry education can be found in projects carried out with international partners by the King’s Centre for the Visualization in Science, which is co-directed by King’s professors Peter Mahaffy and Brian Martin. One recent initiative is Visualizing the Chemistry of Climate Change (www.vc3chem.com), which models how rich contexts from climate science can be used to teach topics in general chemistry.