What is Analytical Chemistry?
Just as Physical Chemistry deals with the physics and dynamics of reactions and Inorganic Chemistry deals with the chemistry of mostly non-living things and coordination compounds and Organic Chemistry deals with the chemistry of carbon and its compounds and the molecules of life, like DNA and proteins.
Analytical Chemistry deals with the analysis of all chemical compounds be it Inorganic or Organic.
It deals with questions like "What are the elements present in a particular compound?" or "Is element X present in this compound?" This was the qualitative side of Analytical Chemistry. On the other hand, it can also be used for quantitative analysis where it deals with questions like "What is the percentage mass composition of a particular compound?" or "What percentage by mass is element X present in the compound?"
What does an Analytical Chemist do?
Chemical Analysis is very important in research level chemistry and should not just be the job of an Analytical Chemist but also of all other types of chemists.
General Steps in a Chemical Analysis:
- Formulate the question
- Select an analytical procedure
- Obtain samples
- Sample preparation
- Reporting and interpretation
- Drawing conclusions
What Analytical Chemists try to do is, they develop new novel methods for the identification of a particular element, let's say the amount of Iron and its distribution in a particular ore and the cheapest and fastest way to get the quantitative data. Analytical chemists also try to improve the efficiency of older analytical methods or build new devices that can help in all types of analysis.
Importance of Analytical Chemistry in Academic Curriculum:
There is a lot of analytical chemistry going on these days. In fact, everybody seems to be doing it! This feverish activity certainly attests to the success of modern chemical analysis; it also raises a question about the sustainability of this activity and the corresponding educational needs of future chemists. My sense is that the answer to this question, or even the need to think about it, has not yet received its due attention in the chemical community. So, whither goes the analytical chemistry curriculum? A study of current practices shows that many approaches are used by various chemistry departments; however, not all approaches are equally effective at teaching the basic principles of modern chemical analysis.
Part of the problem is that the communities of analytical chemistry educators do not agree on what should be taught in a modern chemical analysis curriculum. The situation is further complicated because the various approaches already used to teach chemical analysis also represent a spectrum of philosophies about the relative importance of analytical chemistry and its validity as a discrete sub discipline. Tension about the role of analytical chemistry in the chemistry curriculum is certainly not new, and a resolution of the disparate opinions is not on the horizon. Nonetheless, it seems appropriate to revisit this issue in light of the increasingly important role of modern chemical analysis in advancing the frontiers of chemistry and its related disciplines. From my perspective, the impact of such a discussion would be most profound in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum.
What constitutes an appropriate modern chemical analysis experience for undergraduates? Can the basic principles of chemical analysis really be taught through a few titrations in general chemistry, the use of GC-possibly coupled with MS-to separate and identify reaction products in a sophomore organic laboratory, and the acquisition of the gas-phase spectrum of HCl by FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) in a physical chemistry laboratory? My bottom line: I think not! However, I have heard these arguments from first-rate chemistry programs and faculty far too often. What is missing from these supposedly adequate experiences in chemical analysis? I maintain that one attribute absent from isolated laboratory exercises is a sense of the "analytical process". In other words, what is lacking is a clear sense of chemical analysis as a coherent and integrated series of steps directed toward the solution of a chemical problem or the answer to a specific question, either qualitative or quantitative, about a complex chemical system. Success in this "process" most certainly relies on a firm understanding of the chemical or instrumental fundamentals of the analytical approach; however, a sense of how these fundamentals integrate with the overall process of answering a question about a complex chemical system must also be conveyed. Even traditional courses in analytical chemistry and instrumental analysis often fail to impart this integrated perspective of chemical analysis. In my opinion, this is one aspect in which our existing curricula are seriously deficient. "Case study" and "problem- based learning" approaches have been touted as ways to present this integrated view. Indeed, the case for such approaches is compelling. Unfortunately, the community has yet to widely embrace them.
Apparently, it is much easier to teach analytical chemistry topic-by-topic (translation: chapter-by- chapter) out of textbooks or technique-by-technique within the laboratory-if analytical chemistry is taught as a discrete discipline at all-than it is to integrate these concepts into a coherent picture of the
Analytical process. I submit that our students deserve better! If one accepts this premise, then all that remains is to answer two questions: How can we come together as a community to improve our current educational practices and provide our students with the modern and integrated perspective of chemical analysis that they need? And when will it happen? We need to engage in this debate and resolve these important issues-future generations of chemists are waiting!
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