News scientists

9th June 1995 at 01:00
CHEMISTRY IN THE NEWS. Age group: 16-plus By Derek Stebbens 0 435 63226 4. Pounds 29.95 Heinemann.

Chemistry in the News aims to practise the comprehension tests found in some A-level syllabuses. It is a folder of assignments where students read articles from papers such as the Independent and New Scientist and answer questions on and around the topic.

In all, 40 photocopiable assignments, never more than a few sides, challenge students' knowledge of moles, Markovnikov and more. And to ease the pain, they read some fairly interesting stories about the release of lethal paint into the sea, the crash of a lorry from a bromine plant or the risk to aluminium supplies during the Gulf war.

In one, the story tells how a process might be tweaked to improve the yield of the analgesic ibuprofen. It explains that the drug is a "chiral" molecule - existing in two forms, one active, one less so. By the clever use of cyclodextrin, chemists can change the balance between the two. The questions here look at the structures and get students suggesting ways to make this or separate that.

Another assignment concerns the scare that margarine might be as unhealthy as butter. It seems to be due to certain kinds of unsaturated fat, where the molecule is twisted at a double bond - the so-called "trans" configuration.

But in this case the questions are random and spurious - they ask students to discuss a reaction with ozone and a reaction mechanism with bromine. And where did the bromine come from? Did it leak from another exercise?

All the questions come with answers, put together in a valuable end-section. As a nice additional touch, three assignments have well fleshed-out answers to acclimatise students to what is expected of them. Perhaps what's missing is a list or map showing what ideas appear where, to help your choice of exercises.

Five of the assignments are fairly easy, five more could be done by the end of term one - even though some questions here are unfairly cryptic or tricky for this stage of the course.

Students need the stamina to jump the exam trip-wires. For that, Chemistry in the News provides the exercise.

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