Non-mathematical problem solving in organic chemistry



Differences in problem-solving ability among organic chemistry graduate students and faculty were studied within the domain of problems that involved the determination of the structure of a molecule from the molecular formula of the compound and a combination of IR and 1H NMR spectra. The participants' performance on these tasks was compared across variables that included amount of research experience, year of graduate study, and level of problem-solving confidence. Thirteen of the 15 participants could be classified as either “more successful” or “less successful.” The participants in this study who were “more successful” adopted consistent approaches to solving the problems; were more likely to draw molecular fragments obtained during intermediate stages in the problem-solving process; were better at mining the spectral data; and were more likely to check their final answer against the spectra upon which the answer was based. Experience from research, teaching, and course work were found to be important factors influencing the level of participants' success. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47:643–660, 2010