Developing supporting resources for mathematics in chemistry

'Maths for Chemists' - a new resource for first-year chemistry students

Student interns: Allan Cunningham and Rory Whelan
Staff supervisors: Michael Grove, Jo Kyle (Mathematics) and Samantha Pugh (University of Leeds)

Mathematics is an essential and integral component of all of the scientific disciplines, and its applications within chemistry are numerous and widespread. Mathematics allows a chemist to understand a range of important concepts, model physical scenarios, and solve problems.

The ability to understand and apply mathematics will be important regardless of the branch of chemistry being studying, be it the more traditional areas of inorganic, organic and physical chemistry or some of the newer areas of the subject such as biochemistry, analytical and environmental chemistry.

For some time it has become apparent that many students struggle with their mathematical skills and knowledge as they make the transition to university in a wide range of subjects including chemistry.

To try to reach a better understanding of these issues, in 2014 a collaborative research project between the Universities of Birmingham and Leeds began which involved four excellent and highly motivated undergraduate summer interns.

The project also sought to develop materials and resources to aid learners as they begin their study of chemistry within higher education. At the University of Leeds, educational research was undertaken to analyse existing data sets and capture the views and opinions of both staff and students; the findings of this work were then used by student interns at the University of Birmingham to develop a guide - Maths for Chemists.

The guide Maths for Chemists is available to download here.

Maths for Chemists is not intended to replace the range of textbooks already available, or the notes provided by lecturers and tutors, but instead it provides an additional source of material presented in a quick reference style allowing key mathematical ideas to be explored quickly and succinctly.

Key features:

  • It includes the key mathematical content most chemistry students encounter during the early stages of their first year of undergraduate study.
  • It contains numerous examples demonstrating how the mathematics learnt is applied directly within a chemistry context.
  • Perhaps most significantly, it has been developed by students for students, and is based upon findings from the research undertaken by students.

While this guide can act as a very useful reference resource, it is essential that students work to not only understand the mathematical ideas and concepts it contains, but that they also practice these mathematical skills throughout their undergraduate studies. Understanding key mathematical ideas and being able to apply these to problems in chemistry is an essential part of being a competent and successful chemist, be that within research, industry or academia.