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Learning Objectives
A checklist of concepts to learn and skills to master in this section.
Lecture Slides
Lecture Notes
Internet sites and paper references for further exploration.
Frequently Asked Questions
Find an answer, or ask a question.
Terms and definitions from the glossary are marked with an asterisk (*).
Quiz: The Scientific Method
Random quiz on recognizing and distinguishing laws, hypotheses, theories, and observations.
/chem/senese/101/intro/scimethod-quiz.shtml (8/14/98)

Learning objectives

  • State the central objectives of chemistry (and this course).
  • Outline the scientific method.
    • Classify statements and explanations as observations, experimental data, laws*, hypotheses*, or theories*. Quiz Quiz
    • Understand the importance of making controlled comparisons and obtaining reproducible data.

Lecture outline

The introductory lecture discusses the scope, objectives, and methods of chemistry.

"What is chemistry?"

What is Chemistry?

  • the study of matter* and its transformations
  • the study of connections between molecular and macroscopic events

Why Study Chemistry?

  • learn fundamental physical models
  • gain technical perspective on current events
  • develop problem solving skills
  • appreciate life's little mysteries
Quiz Quiz
Distinguishing laws, data, hypotheses, and theories

The Scientific Method

  • a systematic procedure for solving problems and exploring natural phenomena
  • Observations (data)
    • are the foundation of the scientific method
    • data can be qualitative or quantitative.
    • data is most useful when collected under controlled conditions (experimentsdefinition)
    • experiments must be repeatable and reproducible
Although we often hear that the data can speak for themselves, their voices can be soft and sly.

"Beginning Statistics with Data Analysis", by F. Mosteller, S. Fienberg, and R. Rourke

  • Natural laws
    • compactly summarize patterns in a large amount of data
    • often apply only under special conditions
    • are descriptions of nature, not facts or explanations
  • Hypotheses
    • tentative explanations designed to guide experimentation
    • a useful hypothesis must be testable
    • must be rejected or corrected when they conflict with experiment
  • Theories
    • a well-tested explanation for experimental data based on a set of hypotheses.
It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    • must be discarded or refined when they can't explain new experimental results
    • scientific theories have three aspects: philosophical, mathematical, and empirical.
      • Understand all three, or risk misusing the theory!
    • a good theory...
      • explains currently available data
      • is as simple as possible (but no simpler!)
      • accurately predicts results of future experiments
      • suggests new lines of work and new ways to think
      • clearly shows underlying connections
Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur

  • Serendipity and intuition
    • Many important scientific discoveries were not arrived at using the scientific method
      • Charles Goodyear - vulcanization of rubber
      • Teflon
      • Plastics
      • Saccharin
      • Microwave ovens
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General Chemistry Online! Introduction

Copyright © 1997-2005 by Fred Senese
Comments & questions to fsenese@frostburg.edu
Last Revised 12/14/21.URL: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/intro/index.shtml