Uncle WikiProf. Delmar Larsen is an recent recent professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of California at Davis. Delmar’s current “labor of love” is developing a new online teaching resource to augment chemistry education while reducing excessive out of pocket costs for students.  We recently consolidated The Chem Wiki as a component of his larger project.  His current project is outlined below and I am working with him in a limited capacity to bring this to the attention to the masses.

Delmar has sent me the following in the hopes that you might be interested  in this project, too.

Currently at American universities, chemistry departments require introductory chemistry textbooks at an average cost of $190 per book. When combined with the accompanied study guide ($70), solutions manual ($50), the online student access kit ($48) and individual instructor Readers ($60), the total cost ranges from $250 to $420 annually per student. With an average of ~1,500 students taking General Chemistry sequences each year for a major department, we ask freshmen Chemistry students to contribute from $375k to $525k total annually per university, which essentially doubles to $1M per year when including O-chem classes. While textbooks are clearly an important and critical component to students’ education, their abusive price tags are not, especially in today’s economy as tuition and other student costs are increasing near exponentially.

Much of the content in chemistry textbooks (especially general and O-chem topics) has essentially not changed for years: thermodynamics has been around for centuries; SN2 reaction basics have been established for decades and even alchemists in the 16th century knew how to titrate properly. Why have we convinced ourselves that shelling out $200 per book for established knowledge is the way to go? Simply because there is no other choice; faculty, not students, determine the required textbooks for classes and for a suitable non-commercial textbook substitute to be viable, it must be off sufficient quality to warrant evaluation AND must be supported especially by faculty.

I am constructing an online freely accessible textbook to address both aspects. As a new Chemistry faculty member at UC Davis, I still remember the pain of textbook costs and I am now positioned to construct/manage and push the ChemWiki project as a viable alternative to conventional textbooks. However, the construction of a textbook is not a trivial task, requiring years of effort to complete. This cannot be done by one person, hence we are constructing the ChemWiki via a massively parallelized plan involving simultaneous development effort on multiple fronts, whereby content is written and re-written by not only by faculty members, but primarily by students and other contributing experts.

I am appealing to the expert (and not-so-expert) readers of the chemistry blogging community to participate in the development of the ChemWiki. We are in our 2nd year of development and many Modules (pages) of content need to be developed, reviewed and edited; the range of topics varies across the entire chemistry field. We are also currently pursuing extending the ChemWiki as a resource to developing countries with difficulties obtaining textbooks, specifically in Africa. This is our attempt to make a contribution (outside of research of course) to the scientific community that is long lasting and significant, but we need help to make the project viable – your help.

Contact Delmar Larsen (dlarsen@ucdavis.edu) or visit the ChemWiki server (http://ChemWiki.ucdavis.edu) for an account.