Robert Q. Topper

Professor of Chemistry

Ch 160: Physical Principles of Chemistry

This is a unique course to the Cooper Union. Taught collaboratively by the full-time faculty (and one senior adjunct faculty member), this course provides freshman engineering majors with a calculus-based course in chemistry focused on thermodynamics, phase transitions, electrochemistry and chemical kinetics. It provides an important intellectual link between chemistry, mathematics and physics during the crucial first year of studies and ensures a strong foundation in molecular thermodynamics for engineers.

Course delivery uses an innovative "crit model" for both this course and Ch 110, our survey course in general chemistry. In this model students solve problems individually or in groups, and come together for weekly "crit" sessions where they choose which problems to discuss and collectively review and critique one another's work. Students obtain differential benefits from learning a variety of problem-solving techniques from one another, with faculty guidance and correction. They also learn to rely on one another and begin to build themselves into a learning community. This method of instruction is common among artists, and highlights an important intellectual thread linking the separate disciplines of science and art at the Cooper Union.

Amusingly, since this is the first in a series of three courses in physical chemistry courses that all chemical engineers take, with the second and third courses being much more advanced than this one, many of the students refer to Ch 160 as "baby p-chem." Only at Cooper Union!

Textbook for Fall 2016 and Spring 2017: Physical Chemistry for the Chemical and Biological Sciences by Chang (University Science Press, 2000). See here: http://www.uscibooks.com/chang.htm