Maths for chemistry: a chemist's toolkit of calculations.

Maths for chemistry: a chemist’s toolkit of calculations 

Paul Monk 

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press 2006 | 324pp | ?19.99 (SB) ISBN 0199277419 

Reviewed by Annette Taylor 

Increasing numbers of students are entering a chemistry degree program without A or AS level mathematics or physics, and yet mathematical proficiency is a fundamental part of a set of skills that they are expected to have upon graduation. Of course, as Monk points out, acquiring a basic level of competence in maths is like learning to play a musical instrument: it requires a lot of practice. While it may seem obvious that the budding forensic scientist must have a firm grasp of quantitative chemistry, students are not always convinced that practising calculations is time well-spent. A book such as this helps. It is aimed specifically at chemistry students, and as such it is not always as rigorous as a mathematical text would be, nor as detailed. However, undergraduates on a chemistry programme generally find such texts impossible, and abandon maths completely before recognising that it can be used as a tool to solve chemical problems.  

As the subtitle suggests, this book provides the chemist with a toolkit. Each section is split into bite-sized chunks comprising key points, a discussion of concepts, a worked problem, and self-tests with answers supplied. Rules are quickly applied to chemical problems. The main topics are covered with a large proportion of the book devoted to algebra (you cannot learn to run before you can walk), but I would have liked to see a section on the unfortunately named complex numbers that students inevitably encounter during their degree and are often unnecessarily afraid of. 

There is an abundance of very good mathematical texts, online maths support, and excellent practice problem workbooks for chemistry students. However, this book brings something new to the market: a student-friendly text with discussion on the use of mathematical tools in chemistry. I will be recommending it to undergraduates.