Now that I am doing a fair amount of inorganic synthesis and preparation of metal coordination complexes, I look back to my undergraduate education and wish that it had been somewhat different.

In my undergrad time in the early 80’s, inorganic texts were heavy in theoretical concepts- molecular spectroscopy, ligand field theory, and group theory. It made for a tidy textbook package and coursework was constructed around it.  I cannot speak for other institutions, but in my experience the inorganic curriculum is (was) somewhat leaner in course options than is organic or biochemistry. In particular, the inorganic lab experience was somewhat less endowed with resources than the more popular biochemistry lab.

In graduate school, our graduate level inorganic coursework was even more theoretical than was the undergrad coursework. Obviously, there is a good argument for this and I am not actually complaining about it. But I will say that, in my experience, descriptive inorganic chemistry in the lecture section was sacrificed by the professors apparent preference for the elegance and tidiness of theoretical inorganic chemistry.

To his credit, my undergrad inorganic professor did try to give us the best lab experience possible. We had a vacuum line and did have the chance to use it. We did a prepn of AlI3 a tube furnace. We prepared Cu2(OAc)4 and a few other complexes.  He was also a glass blower  and did his best to teach us a bit about glass.

But in the end, the department was much more highly invested in organic and biochemistry. I was enchanted by synthetic organic chemistry and continued down that track.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now see that the curriculum that I was channeled through was too lean with respect to the rest of the periodic table.  Decriptive and  preparative inorganic chemistry was wedged in only by virtue of the strength of the professors interests and personality. Theoretical inorganic chemistry does not require expensive laboratory facilities.

So, I have come out to speak in favor of more descriptive inorganic chemistry in the curriculum.  More reaction chemistry. More preparation of materials in the lab. More characterization of or reaction products. More experience with setting up reactions and isolations.  More experience with hazardous materials!!

The notion that laboratory experiences for chemistry majors must be constrained by the need for Green consideration is nonsense.

I believe that microscale equipment for chemistry majors should be banned. Students should minimally prepare a few grams of materials so that they can be handled for subsequent purification and characterization. Forcing inexperienced students to prepare a spatula tip of product is unfair and needlessly harsh.

The idea that constraining a junior or senior to preparing less than 100 mg of product in a reaction is somehow green and worthy of merit is absolutely ridiculous. This is chemistry lab, not church camp.  The savings in environmental insult is minimal. There are much bigger fish to fry than this anyway. 

I suspect that equipment expenses and waste costs for university chemistry departments are drivers in what is chosen for the lab experience. If indeed efforts are being thrown on better instrumental experiences rather than better preparatory experiences, then I would say that we are missing the point. Given the creeping featurism in computer controlled instrumentation, I would suggest that monies be spent on better synthetic experiences than on the latest hyphenated instrument. 

Perhaps someone could comment on this.

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