Refresher course on Fundamentals of Physical Chemistry

Science Academies’ Refresher Course on
“Foundations of Physical Chemistry and its Applications”
Organized by
Indian Women Scientists’ Association
15th to 30th December, 2017

Report on the Science Academies’ Sponsored Refresher Course on “Foundations of Physical Chemistry and its Applications”

The Science Academies’ Sponsored Refresher Course on “Foundations of Physical Chemistry and its Applications” was held at Indian Women Scientists’ Association Head Quarters at ICICI Multipurpose Hall, Sector 10-A, Dr. Mar Theophilus Marg, Vashi, Navi Mumbai 400703  during 15-30 December, 2017. The fifteen day course covered various topics in physical chemistry such as, Quantum chemistry and molecular structure, chemical thermodynamics and applications, electrochemistry and applications, physical chemistry principles involved in analytical chemistry, physical organic chemistry, catalysis, interfacial chemistry and chemical kinetics. The course comprised of lectures, tutorials and experiments.

The advertisement  for the Refresher Course appeared in the July 2017 issue of Current Science and August 2017 issue of Resonance. Thirty eight post graduate teachers and six students from all over India had applied. After screening, selection letters were sent to 26 participants (22  outstation and 4 local participants) and they were requested to confirm their participation by 15th November 2017.  Others were kept in the wait-list. As only about 50 % of the selected participants confirmed their participation, selection letters were sent to the wait-listed participants. Many of them accepted the offer. As on 11th December, 2017, the confirmed list of participants was 26 (22 outstation and 4 local).  Just two days before the start of the course, emails were received from several confirmed participants about their inability to attend the course. The main reason for their inability to attend was that they did not get leave from their college. Finally, 18 participants attended the course on all the fifteen days (10 outstation and 8 local participants). Four local participants were contacted and requested to participate in the course on 14th December, 2017.

Physical Chemistry is the branch of chemistry that deals with the mechanism, the rate and the energy transfer that occurs when matter undergoes  change. Understanding the key concepts of physical chemistry is essential for solving practical problems in research and industrial applications. The course comprised of lectures on the following topics: Quantum chemistry and molecular structure, chemical thermodynamics and applications, electrochemistry and applications, physical chemistry principles involved in analytical chemistry, physical organic chemistry, catalysis, interfacial chemistry and chemical kinetics.

The course was inaugurated by Dr. J.P. Mittal, former Director of Chemistry Group, BARC and INSA Senior Scientist. Dr. Indira Priyadarsini, Director of the Course welcomed the participants and guests and explained the genesis of the course. Dr. Surekha Zingde, President IWSA made a presentation about the various activities of IWSA and highlighted the efforts of IWSA in regularly organising the Science academies Refresher Courses in various disciplines. Dr. Shyamala Bharadwaj, Coordinator of the refresher course presented the overview of the lectures and various activities planned for the next fifteen days. Dr. J.P.Mittal spoke about the various educational programs of the Science Academies and motivated the participants to actively involve themselves in the activities of the Science academies. Vote of thanks was given by Dr. Lalitha Dhareshwar, Vice President of IWSA.

Several evening lectures were arranged during the course. Some of the eminent speakers of the evening lectures were: Padma Shri. Dr. J.P. Mittal, who is a fellow of all the three science academies and a distinguished INSA Senior Scientist, Prof. Lakshmi Kantham, Fellow of NASI and INSA and the first women director of a CSIR Institute, Dr. Swapan Ghosh, fellow of all the three science academies and a well known theoretical chemist, Prof. Vasudeva Rao, Vice Chancellor of HBNI and Prof. Shridhar Gadre, Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Awardee, Fellow of IAS and INSA.  The talks by these distinguished speakers were highly motivating for the participants. All the lectures were very well received by the participants and there were intense discussions with the speakers.

One of the main highlights of the Refresher Course was the one-day workshop on Physical Chemistry Experiments conducted by scientists from Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) on 18-12-2017. The participants were given certain experimental problems and there were discussions on how to interact with students and make them interpret the observations from these experiments. The participants interacted with the scientists of HBCSE and there were lively discussions about conducting experiments in physical chemistry and interpreting the results.

Two visits to the R&D centre of ONGC at Panvel Navi Mumbai were arranged on 20-12-2017 and 21-12-2017. The scientists of the centre enthusiastically explained to the participants of the course about how these R&D centres find instant solutions to the various problems faced by the Oil and Natural Gas industry. Various aspects of corrosion problems, including those due to microbial attacks on the oil pipe lines, effects of parameters such as viscosity etc on the flow rates of oil and gas, and several day to day problems faced by the industry and how the R&D centre addresses these problems were explained to the participants. The participants also had an exposure to experimental aspects of scanning electron microscope and microstructural analysis of structural materials used in the industry. Overall it was a rich experience for the participants of how the knowledge gained in class rooms can be applied to solve problems of industry that serves the nation.

The participants learned about several analytical techniques such as ICP-MS, ICP-OES, gas chromatography, XRD, photo luminescence, thermal analysis etc during their visit to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on 22nd December, 2017.   The participants were highly motivated by the scientists who explained to them the intricacies of doing experiments with sophisticated equipment and interpreting the results with careful observations.

As part of the Refresher Course, an exhibition cum poster display of various technologies developed by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) for the societal applications was organised during 18-20 December, 2017.  The participants learnt about the mandate of DAE  to harness atomic energy for generation of a clean, green and benign source of electricity and  how the activities of DAE are also for other societal applications in a variety of areas like health-care, agriculture & food, water resource management, industry, environment, research and education.

There was a one – day workshop on Mass Spectrometry and its applications on 29th December, 2017.  There were lectures on various types of mass spectrometers, mass analysers, detectors etc,, followed by demonstration of a proto type quadrupole mass spectrometer which has been designed and fabricated at Technical Physics Division of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. This motivated the participants about indigenous development of instruments. They also had hands on experience in observing and interpreting mass spectra.

On the concluding day of the Refresher Course (30-12-2017), an additional lecture on “Chemical Ecology” was delivered by Dr. Meena Haribal, who has conducted research in chemical ecology for almost 25 years  at Cornell University and Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, NY, USA. This lecture was not in the original schedule of the program, but was included so as to provide a completely different aspect of chemistry i.e. chemistry and biology to understand our environment. We were fortunate that Dr. Haribal agreed to speak during her visit to IWSA on 30th December, 2017.   This was followed by Prof. Gadre’s lecture on “Electrostatics Landscapes of Molecules”. All the participants actively interacted with the speakers during both these lectures.

The participants then had a very interesting interactive session with a panel of distinguished scientists, who are also well known for their contributions towards chemistry education. The panellists were: Prof. Shridhar Gadre of Pune University, Prof. V.K. Jain, Director, Centre of Excellence in Basic Science, Mumbai University and Prof. S.D. Samant, a renowned scientist from Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai and Former President of Association of Chemistry Teachers. Initially, the panellists spoke about their views on chemistry education and research. The participants then expressed their difficulties in teaching some of the topics in chemistry to undergraduate students and the panellists advised them on how these difficulties can be overcome. There were also lively discussions between the participants and panellists about interdisciplinary research and how there are no boundaries such as physical chemistry, organic chemistry etc. and for that matter even among various disciplines of science like, chemistry, biology, physics etc. Ideas on how the teachers can motivate their students to consider and address research queries were also discussed. Dr. Indira Priyadarsini, Dr. Shyamala Bharadwaj, Dr. Leela Jain and Dr. Surekha Zingde also expressed their views and gave suggestions during the discussion.

The panellists presented the participation certificates and books on chemistry to all the participants at the Valedictory Function.  The course was well appreciated by all the participants, speakers and guest participants and all of them expressed their view that this course will go a long way in enhancing the teaching capabilities of the post graduate teachers.

Dr. Shyamala Bharadwaj
Course Coordinator