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Article by Sostareczes to be published in premier journal

04/25/2012
Monmouth College faculty members Audra Goach Sostarecz and Michael Sostarecz, a wife and husband who teach in different academic departments, co-authored a peer-reviewed article that has been accepted by the Journal of Chemical Education.

Titled “A Conceptual Approach to Limiting Reagent Problems,” the article was presented by Michael Sostarecz at last month’s national American Chemical Society (ACS) conference in San Diego.

“Getting published in the Journal of Chemical Education is pretty prestigious, and I am proud that I was able to publish as a non-chemist,” said Michael Sostarecz, who is an assistant professor of mathematics and computer science.

The Journal of Chemical Education is the official journal of the ACS’s Division of Chemical Education of the ACS. Launched in 1924, it is the world’s premier chemical education journal.

The authors contend that a solid foundation of chemistry principles can be gained only through a true comprehension of the material as opposed to pure memorization. One of the most fundamental concepts in chemistry is that of determining the amount of product formed in a chemical reaction when one of the reactants is limiting.

“In order to increase students’ comprehension of this important concept, we presented a conceptual approach that is tangible for small limiting reagent problems and extends directly to typical examples that would be encountered in a classroom or laboratory setting,” wrote the professors. “To accommodate visual learners, a graphical methodology is incorporated.”

Interdisciplinary cooperation was the key to the project, said Michael.

“The article and talk came about by a mathematician (Sostarecz) taking a fresh look at an important topic within the discipline of chemistry. Although the idea was originally by a mathematician, it was very important to have an expert within the field involved. Audra gave a solid foundation within chemistry and chemistry education and made sure that the presentation of material was consistent and accepted within the chemistry community.”

By graphing the chemical components of the reaction together, the authors stated, students can grasp both the quantitative and conceptual understanding of limiting reagents in order to further develop valuable critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills.

“Our method for solving limiting reagents uses introductory algebra and shows an example of the importance of mathematics within chemistry,” said Michael. “The method also hints at where calculus and other aspects of higher mathematics are used in chemistry. The interdisciplinarity goes the other direction, too, as the topic of limiting reagents can be a great example of an application in the mathematics classroom.”

In preparation of the paper and talk, the material was tested in Audra’s Analytical Chemistry class and “was very well-received by the students,” reported Michael, who said the feedback was submitted anonymously to help keep the responses as honest as possible.

“I would use this method again, especially when there are more than two reactants,” wrote one of the students, with another adding, “Instead of just looking at the numbers, I get a visual of what is actually going on in the reaction.”

“This was an interesting way to look at solving for limiting reagents that I have never seen before,” said one of the professors in attendance at the ACS conference. “I definitely will use this the next time I teach the topic.”