For the first paper, you’ll play the role of historian, choosing a chemical technology that changed history and writing about its invention and effect on society. Here’s how: Meet the basic criteria Describe the invention of a chemical technology and its effect on society Stay within the 1500- to 2500-word limit, which is for the body of text (not your title, image captions, or citations) Use at least 3 scholarly, or scholarly-adjacent sources, and cite them appropriately (I don’t mandate the format, but you should pick one and be consistent) Include at least 3 images, which you may embed in the document however you wish (citing source, of course) Submit as a Word document or PDF to the Don’t rely on technical jargon to carry your explanation of how an invention works. It’s easy to hide behind jargon. If you depend on technical terms to explain how an invention works, then you’ve written something that only a chemistry professor can understand, and you’ve missed the point. The intended audience is someone with your prior knowledge of chemistry. Describe things so that you would have understood before starting your research. Physicist Richard Feynman said that you don’t understand something until you can explain it to a child. I agree, but explaining to a child is hard. Explain to yourself as you were two months ago and that will do. By all means don’t avoid technical terms, especially if you use them repeatedly—jargon is useful after all as shorthand—but the first time you use it, explain it in common language. Don’t just say what happened, explain why it matters. The paper, after all, is about inventions that changed history. Chemistry is a visual science, so use images in your explanations. Describing in words alone how an invention works is unlikely to succeed. Explaining alongside an image that communicates it visually is much more effective. If your invention includes a molecule, that molecule should probably appear. If it doesn’t (a solar cell for example doesn’t), then depict it another way. If your invention involves a process (e.g. a vapor-compression cycle for refrigeration), include an image of that process. Balance technology and society in you narrative. An A paper is strong in all the major sections of Problem statement, Idea, Invention, Chemistry, Impact . They might be broken up or interwoven in a different order depending on what makes sense in your narrative, but they should be clearly recognizable and well done. In some rare cases it’s justified to be short on the problem statement, but unless you’ve confirmed with me, you should assume that’s not you. Back up your explanation of the effects on society with evidence. Evidence can be data or anecdotes, but a story without evidence isn’t compelling. If your source for this evidence includes a chart, consider including it as an image. Place the invention in time. There’s a reason why the invention came about when it did. A good paper explains why. Omit needless words. Clear writing is clear thinking, and the easiest way to improve your writing is to rewrite a sentence with the fewest words possible while preserving the narrative. “Needless” means encumbers the reader without conveying any content. Write something you’re proud of. Pride shines through. Passion shines through. If you picked a topic you care about and you took your time on it, I’ll likely pick up on that. Let a second draft work its magic. Every paper becomes clearer on the second draft. A third might be better, but you reach diminishing returns after that. Don’t procrastinate until you’re forced to turn in a first draft. I want your talents to shine through, and a second draft helps make that happen. Basic requirements: 1500 – 2500 words (citations and image captions don’t count towards the limit) At least 3 scholarly or scholarly-adjacent sources (see Day 3 post) At least 3 images The invention should have had a meaningful effect on history for at least a hundred thousand people (rough estimate). Water chlorination changed the lives of billions who no longer die of waterborne diseases, puberty blockers changed the lives of hundreds of thousands whose future is no longer determined by their sex assigned at birth. Both are chemical inventions that changed history, so both would make good topics. We have 140 students in class, and at least as many interests. I’ll do my best to give as much varied advice as possible. I tend to focus on big global challenges—defending against disease, securing our food supply, making power without pollution—but you need not restrict yourself. Many chemical inventions have transformed culture, such as photographic film, birth-control, and fabric dyes. One limitation is that your paper should be about an invention, not a discovery. For example, the double-helix structure of DNA is a discovery, X-ray crystallography is an invention that made that discovery possible, and PCR is an invention that was enabled by it. The pattern is: X-ray crystallography (invention) ? Structure of DNA (discovery) ? PCR (invention) So if you have a discovery that you really want to talk about, look behind and ahead of it, and you’ll likely find an invention. You could go one step step further in the step above and talk about catching of criminals like the Golden State Killer, which was made possible by DNA fingerprinting, which in turn is based on PCR. A similar process works for a discovery of a problem caused by chemistry. Any time a problem was discovered, it almost certainly was discovered by using a chemical tool, which itself is an invention. For example: Tetraethyl lead in gasoline (invention/cause) ? Widespread lead poisoning/neurological damage (discovery) ? Mass spectrometry (invention/tool) So you see, that there are many ways to talk about something you care about that still qualify. Here are a few buckets that I categorize chemical inventions into: Inventions that made us no longer dependent on destructive extraction of the environment (e.g. Bakelite, 1907, that as an ivory substitute slowed the killing of elephants; Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis that stopped the pillaging of South America for guano) Inventions that changed the way we live (e.g. light bulbs and the extended work day, air conditioning and the migration to warm climates, the Bessemer process for steel and the connection of the country through railroads) Inventions that changed social attitudes (e.g. contraception and the sexual revolution, LSD and the 60s counterculture, mass-produced paper and widespread literacy) Inventions that allow us to see what we couldn’t see before (e.g. mass spectrometry, which allows us to know the age of the earth and our ancestors, discover how plants communicate, and many more…) Inventions that may have caused as many problems as they solved (heroin, DDT) Inventions that replaced past, harmful ones (e.g. waterborne acrylic paints to replace toxic oil-based ones) Most invention stories follow the same basic narrative: ? Society had a problem, and people solved it somehow…usually inadequately ? Someone has an idea ? People work to turn that idea into a practical technology ? Here’s how that technology works ? Society was never the same again You’ll recognize this as the structure I follow and our readings follow. There are variations, but that’s the tried-and-true recipe. To decide what to write about for your societal impact part, ask yourself why do I find this invention interesting? You picked your topic for a reason, so write about that. Inventions shape the world in myriad ways, many of them outside the vision of the original inventors. Your paper about birth control might look very different from someone else’s paper about birth control, because you’re more interested in declined stigma around sex whereas they’re more interested in regulation of menstrual cycles. Don’t try to write the definitive account of all effects of a technology; limit your scope and your paper will benefit. Your impact should mirror your problem. Every paper begins with a problem and ends with an impact—they should be about the same thing (except a few rare cases; ask if unsure). For example, when I told the story of water chlorination, I chose the chemical invention of electrolysis and the chlor-alkali process for making chlorine cheaply from seawater. However, I did not talk about the struggles of pulping and bleaching wood fibers to mass-manufacture paper, which is the problem the inventors had in mind. Instead, I talked about our historical struggle for clean water, which was the impact of cheap chlorine that I cared most about. Someone else might write about the chlor-alkali process and begin with the problem of widespread illiteracy, when was then addressed through mass-manufacture of books using cheap, mass-manufactured paper (although the Kraft process, 1884, would be an even better chemical invention to pick for that). You see? One invention, many effects. Pick one (or a limited number) and tell a cohesive story. Your don’t need a thesis, but you should have a point of view. This isn’t a persuasion paper. It’s historical, and my favorite kind of history—the kind where we solve our problems with technology. Maybe you want to point out how a solution created another problem, like DDT conquering malaria (in the developed world), but poisoning the environment. That’s okay too; in fact, most narratives are okay as long as it was significant in some way to society. I’m not asking you to have a thesis, but if I asked you should be able to explain in a few sentences your story of how the invention changed the world. If you make your paper a long list of one fact after another, you’ve lost your point of view. Narrow down your characters. Kurt Vonnegut’s advice is “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” They don’t all need to want something, but if you find yourself stuffing too many people into your narrative, ask whether they’re serving the overall goal. Inventions often involve many people, especially ones that took a long time to get from discovery to technology. It works better if you choose a few “heroes” (though, like Fritz Haber, they need not be entirely virtuous) to tell your story. Most papers go [expansive] ? [narrow] ? [expansive] as they go from [problem] ? [invention] ? [impact], which means that most characters come in during the invention phase. This isn’t always the case though; a user of the invention might be critical to its impact and so will play a pivotal role during the impact piece. For example, I probably should have written about agronomist Norman Borlaug in my lesson on fertilizer because Haber-Bosch nitrogen wouldn’t have changed the world without breeders like him. Another example would be Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood in the story of oral contraception. If you’re writing a chemical-invention-fueled-discovery paper (such as choosing the invention of DNA sequencing to talk about the discovery of the interconnectedness of all humanity and the impact that viewpoint had), then the inventors might be given equal or perhaps even less weight than the later practitioners who used the invention to make a discovery. Inventors are problem solvers, so use the format of problem/solution to describe how something was invented. An example: “Fritz Haber was faced with a low reaction rate for ammonia production and no one in his time knew how catalysts worked, so he screened every metal he could find until he found one that worked. After solving that problem, he found that yields were still low, so he built a continuous recycling loop to give the unreacted product a chance to react. Looking at this, Carl Bosch thought it was great but balked at the prospect of feeding the world on a metal more precious than gold, so he initiated a more ambitious screening program focused on cost and found that iron, with special treatment, could replace osmium.” That simple example tells (i) what the technological hurdle was, (ii) what the limitations were, and (iii) how the inventor cleverly got around those limitations to do what no one had done before. Not only is it fun to see things from the perspective of an inventor, but this is where you demonstrate your insight into the chemistry, because if you can understand the problems, you understand the technology. You may want to also consider the role of insight and creativity. Insights come from many places (bathing for Archimedes, a dream of a snake eating its own tail for Kekulé, psychedelic visions of electric pink and blue molecules for Kary Mullis); so if insight plays a role in your discovery, that can be fun to include, because it illustrates the sometimes unpredictable nature of invention. For your invention, what was most significant—a lone genius, a great team, a visionary financial backer, a unifying purpose, a previous discovery…? Invention stories are human stories, and by telling them we tell something about ourselves. I’m not telling you what to think, but you should have an opinion. This doesn’t need to be explicitly addressed in your paper, but if you think about the question, you’ll probably write a better paper, and you’ll definitely enjoy the process more. Lone-genius narratives are the traditional mold throughout history, but a more modern take (and one likely more consistent with how neurons work) is to view greats ideas as coming from an ecosystem. Steven Johnson favors this approach, which he describes through the term the adjacent possible (see his introduction from our reading on clean water)—the phenomenon by which inventions tend to crop up where there’s a critical mass of ideas and social connections. He points out how the discovery of oxygen by Joseph Priestly was likely fueled by the frequent social meetings with other scientists in the recently-debuted cafés serving newly available coffee, which functioned as a proto-internet. Kevin Kelly (futurist and founder of Wired magazine) takes a similar approach. And for the more finance inclined, check out Tony Seba (Links to an external site.), who points out how inventions tend to happen when two enabling technologies’ cost curves drop below a critical price (e.g. digital imaging and lithium batteries for the smartphone). Plug into a common theme of chemistry if there is one. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If your story fits into one of these themes, that automatically helps you tell a compelling story of its invention: Mass producing natural products: A common narrative in chemistry is one where someone (often not a chemist) makes a discovery of a natural product with wondrous abilities, but the supply is too small to make a difference. A chemist then steps in to supply what nature couldn’t. Examples are insulin from a dog’s pancreas for diabetes and Taxol from the bark of the rare Pacific Yew. Even the silicon solar cell follows this arc, as the first effect was seen in a single piece of natural silicon that happened to have the right impurities in the right amounts. Making what was the privilege of the rich available to the masses: Chemistry is about transforming matter, which means that chemists often make valuable products out of what others view as waste—the antiseptic phenol from coal tar, fertilizer from air, chlorine from seawater. This is a democratizing force such as in bright dyes for the masses with Perkin’s mauve, paper with the Kraft process, and toothbrushes, combs, and other consumer goods with early plastics. Making a new thing in the world: There was nothing like gunpowder before gunpowder. There was nothing like penicillin before penicillin. All steel rusted before stainless steel. There’s nothing lighter and stronger than carbon fiber. Sometimes change is transformative, and these step-changes are thrilling. New ways of seeing: We often don’t pay attention to something until we measure it. This means that Sanger, Maxam, and Gilbert (inventors of DNA sequencing) played an essential role in all subsequent revolutions in our understanding of our past, shaped by genetics. Erika Cremer’s invention of gas chromatography in 1947 allowed us to explore and deconstruct mixtures of volatile compounds, making her implicated in everything from perfumes, to artificial flavors, to knowing the compositions of ancient atmospheres in ice cores to understand our planet’s climate past. For a good default % allocation between sections, follow the 10-10-30-10-40 rule. It’s a stylistic choice which order you put these in, but all papers should have these basic sections. Change you allocations as you wish (I won’t be measuring) but a good default to match my expectations is: 10% Problem statement | What was society was like before the invention? What problem did the technology solve? 10% Idea | What in the life of the inventor or the society at the time made this invention happen when it did? 30% Invention | How was the idea developed into a practical technology? 10% Chemistry | how does the chemical invention work? 40% Impact | How did it change society?