P748: Emphasizing connections in physical chemistry: The case of statistical thermodynamics
At Cornell College, the traditional two course undergraduate physical chemistry sequence has been reimagined to emphasize connections between topics and better serve the needs of students. Using active learning pedagogy in both classroom and lab, the first course serves as an introduction to all main subareas of physical chemistry while the second course provides more depth to all main subareas. This presentation will provide an overview of this strategy and then provide more details on a key set of assignments on statistical thermodynamics. Through a set of spreadsheet exercises in the second course, students gain facility with statistical thermodynamics and how it interfaces with both quantum mechanics and classical thermodynamics. Starting from spectroscopic data, students calculate partition functions, thermal energies, entropies, temperature-independent energies of reaction, and ultimately free energies of reaction in order to predict whether or not a speculative reaction will occur. In this way, students keep using statistical thermodynamics while further aspects of quantum mechanics, classical thermodynamics, and kinetics are covered in class and lab. Student response to the general strategy and the spreadsheet exercises will be discussed.