Chemical calculations at a glance

Chemical calculations at a  glance 
Paul Yates 
Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing | 2005 | 208 pp | ?14.99 (SB) | ISBN 1405118717 
Reviewed by Peter Karadakov

These days, a conversation between physical chemistry lecturers will almost inevitably touch upon the difficulties associated with teaching mathematics and mathematically intensive topics, such as thermodynamics, kinetics and quantum theory, to chemistry undergraduates.  

The main source of these difficulties is the fact that a large number of undergraduates embark on a chemistry degree course either without an A level background in mathematics, or with low A level maths grades. As a result, it is no longer safe to assume that all students can cope even with simple tasks such as combining fractions and rearranging equations. Most UK chemistry departments are now offering additional mathematical training to their first year undergraduates.  

Chemical calculations at a glance is not the first book to address the mathematical needs of chemistry undergraduates (two other popular titles that spring to mind are Maths for chemists by Martin Cockett and Graham Doggett, and Basic mathematics for chemists by Peter Tebbutt), but it has features that make it different from previous texts. The most important of these is the ’at a glance’ approach and the associated clear and concise layout of the material which makes the book very easy to use as a reference. It is not necessary to read it in the usual sequential fashion; the student can simply look up a topic in the index and then read a relatively short description accompanied by one or more chemical examples.  

The book covers introductory mathematical skills, handling data, algebra, functions, spatial mathematics and calculus, providing adequate coverage of the mathematics that chemistry undergraduates are likely to encounter during their first and second years at university. The reference style of the book is emphasised by the almost complete absence of proofs; these have been substituted by worked examples that provide the type of hands on experience that many students prefer to mathematical rigour. By including problems (with solutions) the student is encouraged to practise both the mathematical manipulations and their application to problems in chemistry.  

Chemical calculations at a glance would make a useful addition to the bookshelf of a chemistry undergraduate who finds coping with maths in physical chemistry an uphill struggle; those who are after a deeper understanding of the subject would probably be better off with one of the above-mentioned alternatives.