Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Course Content in Chemistry

From: JASA 20 (March 1968): 32.

Russell Maatman's contribution CHEMISTRY, in the JOURNAL for September 1967 deserves comment.

Most universities recognize that their functions are two fold. There is first the obligation to deepen the area of knowledge, in other words to teach and thus to impart knowledge. There is as well the duty continually to push back the frontiers of knowledge, in other words to engage in fundamental research and thus to increase the area of knowledge. These functions are complimentary and neither attains its full stature without the other.

To-day approximately two thirds of the bachelor graduates in Chemistry pass eventually into graduate education most of them to degrees in Medicine or in Chemical research. These two thirds cannot be ignored. Indeed, in Chemistry, the scientific future of graduates belongs more and more heavily to those who have gone successfully through graduate programs.

The shift in course content which Russell Maatman describes is a decided help to graduate education.

At the present time we are proceeding in directions which at first sight however may seem contradictory but which, on deeper insight, are not.

On the one hand, our Ph.D. graduates in Chemistry must, of necessity, specialize. The techniques of scientific research are such that they cannot be mastered otherwise. The investigator must go deeply into the narrow field in which he is working. On the other hand, the successful completion of a piece of individual research is more and more coming to make use of the factual knowledge, know-how and techniques of related branches of scientific lore.

The only sufferer in this trend is factual knowledge on an elementary level. This is unavoidable as far as curricula themselves are concerned but on the other hand, it is really surprising to see how much information a truly devoted scholar can pick up through the medium of outside reading, stimulated by these very considerations of a more highly theoretical nature. He soon finds that he cannot think in theoretical terms without a broad foundation in factual knowledge.

Howard W. Post
Emeritus Professor at Chemistry
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, N.Y. 14214