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Chemistry students at Leeds

Chemistry at Leeds

Leading the way in chemistry education

From forming the basis of undergraduate organic chemistry teaching in the 1940s to leading the way in business education for chemists today, we’ve been at the forefront of chemistry education for over 60 years. 

The foundations of undergraduate organic chemistry teaching techniques

Sir Christopher Kelk Ingold (CK Ingold) joined the University of Leeds’ chemistry team in the 1920s. Although the period when CK Ingold was professor at Leeds was short, it was important in the history of organic chemistry. 

By the time that he came to Leeds in 1925, Ingold’s ideas of structure and mechanism were well developed.

He felt confident in starting an exciting new project: not teaching organic chemistry in the traditional ‘German’ way based on rote learning of reactions but teaching undergraduates through an understanding of structure and mechanism.

Innovative chemistry courses

When Ingold left in 1930 he handed over the project to his friend and colleague JW Baker. It was something Baker continued to work on until Professor Lythgoe arrived in 1953.

A study of Baker’s course from 1942 made by Martin Saltzman (Providence College, USA) led to a paper which was presented at the American Chemical Society meeting. 

Dr Saltzman said, “what sets this course aside is that the students were undergraduates and not graduate students. I do not know if similar courses existed elsewhere in Great Britain or indeed anywhere else in the world at the undergraduate level”. 

Ingold’s experiment in teaching at Leeds was way ahead of its time.  His approach has, of course, become the basis everywhere for teaching undergraduates organic chemistry.

Still leading the way in chemistry teaching

Employers in the chemical and related industries consistently criticise UK chemistry graduates, saying that they lack business-related skills and commercial awareness. Transferable skills, such as team-working and oral presentation are often said to be lacking.

In response to this, the department of chemistry at Leeds has created a module called 'Chemistry: Idea to Market'. This module is designed to guide students through the various stages of taking a new product from concept to market. 

The main emphasis is on developing new products within a larger company, rather than entrepreneurship and starting new businesses. Business topics are explored in context, using case studies that give students the freedom to develop areas that interest them. Problem-based case studies are effective learning tools, and the nature of the topic lends itself to this teaching method. 

Similarly, moving away from a lecture-based approach to facilitated workshops is a more successful way of developing transferable skills and other attributes that employers seek.