Teaching Chemistry with Electron Density Models
Abstract
Linus Pauling once said that a topic must satisfy two criteria before it can be taught to students. First, students must be able to assimilate the topic within a reasonable amount of time. Second, the topic must be relevant to the educational needs and interests of the students. Unfortunately, the standard general chemistry textbook presentation of "electronic structure theory", set as it is in the language of molecular orbitals, has a difficult time satisfying either criterion. Many of the quantum mechanical aspects of molecular orbitals are too difficult for most beginning students to appreciate, much less master, and the few applications that are presented in the typical textbook are too limited in scope to excite much student interest.
This article describes a powerful new method for teaching students about electronic structure and its relevance to chemical phenomena. This method, which we have developed and used for several years in general chemistry (G.P.S.) and organic chemistry (A.J.S.) courses, relies on computergenerated threedimensional models of electron density distributions, and largely satisfies Pauling's two criteria. Students find electron density models easy to understand and use, and because these models are easily applied to a broad range of topics, they successfully convey to students the importance of electronic structure. In addition, when students finally learn about orbital concepts they are better prepared because they already have a welldeveloped threedimensional picture of electronic structure to fall back on. We note in this regard that the types of models we use have found widespread, rigorous application in chemical research (1, 2), so students who understand and use electron density models do not need to "unlearn" anything before progressing to more advanced theories.
 Publication:

Journal of Chemical Education
 Pub Date:
 July 1997
 DOI:
 10.1021/ed074p771
 Bibcode:
 1997JChEd..74..771S