Naked Science Forum

Non Life Sciences => Chemistry => Topic started by: rebpalma on 08/11/2013 08:26:08

Title: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: rebpalma on 08/11/2013 08:26:08
Hello. I'm considering starting a degree in Chemistry. I work full-time (in a non-related field) and I am also a graduate in Mathematics, but all my life I have wanted to study a "real" science and couldn't because I was so bad at Chemistry, in spite of all the time that I invested in studying this subject.
My main problem with Chemistry (apart from having bad teachers) is my lack of trust in what I can't prove. Most of the things that Chemistry books talk about happen at a microscopic scale, or are the results of experiments that I can't reproduce at home, and therefore I have to believe it as an act of faith. If the book told an entirely different story, I would have to believe it too.
As a result, I have to learn everything by heart, and that is not my forte. It prevents me from reasoning and if I come across a problem that I haven't memorized before, I am unable to solve it.
Now that I'm considering attacking this dragon again, do you have any tips on how to overcome this problem?
Thank you in advance!
All the best,
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: SimpleEngineer on 08/11/2013 08:46:27
This may be a bit strange but maybe you should jump deep into the chemistry at a fairly high level to start having the proof that you require.. this may open up the things that you dont feel as proven, and show you WHY they happen so you  can then make your own mind up about things that are going to happen..

Chemistry does not require you to learn things from heart (well I didn't and I got a significant mark in the chemistry part of my degree) If you understand the mechanics you will be able to figure out what is going to happen, and if you find something you don't understand it will be a mechanic that you haven't learned yet.

Maybe you were terrible at chemistry because you didnt understand the mechanics? Maybe you could find someone to break down the mechanics into a form that you could understand and remember to make it easier?
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: rebpalma on 08/11/2013 09:05:49
Hello, thanks for your reply!
My first encounter with Chemistry was about twenty years ago and our terrible relationship lasted for three years, after which I run to Mathematics so that I never had to see a redox reaction again.
With this I mean that it's been ages and I don't remember the particulars of my difficulties, but I do remember having trouble to understand the newest theories of the structure of the atom ("The electrons are there but nowhere in particular? Really?"), understanding redox reactions (never got to write them right), problems on dissolutions (never got the right answer for volumes, densities...), and naming complex molecules was a problem since there are several naming systems and even if you learn all the rules of naming, there is always a molecule that escapes the rules or makes two rules conflict with one another.
The degree I'm considering would be in distance learning, so I would be mostly left to my own devices, just as I was when I studied Chemistry the first time.
Thanks for your time.
All the best!
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: alancalverd on 08/11/2013 09:16:23
I agree it's a lot easier if you start with a maths degree to get into chemistry via atomic physics, quantum mechanics and orbital forms, whereupon physical chemistry and the reactions of of small molecules becomes obvious and stereochemistry gets interesting.   

Nevertheless you have to accept that there are zillions of chemical reactions taking place all the time and most of the stuff you buy (like this computer) is the product of small-molecule reactions that somebody designed on paper but you can't easily replicate at home, so you have to take it on trust. If you want to stick to chemistry you can reproduce in your own kitchen, study food science or biology: unfortunately many of the mechanisms (enzyme stereochemistry, protein folding...) are poorly understood so you may not find the explanations satisfying!   
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: rebpalma on 08/11/2013 10:36:21
Luckily, nowadays we have the Wikipedia, the Khan Academy, Coursera, EdX and others...
In my days I could only rely on my three textbooks from different editors.
But what about questions that may arise that the book doesn't address?
Is this forum a good place to ask about specific problems? Or should I try somewhere else?
Thanks again.
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: alancalverd on 08/11/2013 10:45:20
Try the Open University. Mostly correspondence courses but you will be assigned a personal tutor.
Title: Re: How can I study Chemistry better?
Post by: evan_au on 08/11/2013 20:42:11
The 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry ( was awarded for developments that allow chemical reactions to be simulated on a computer - even fairly complex biological reactions.

With a sufficiently powerful computer, you can now run these chemical experiments on your kitchen table.