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How do chemists keep up with the scientific literature?


'Norm's famous Question 9'
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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Now, you will have already gauged from what I was saying that there is a problem of external exam which was to be fair to the candidates, because one always had the feeling you were asking a question which is perfectly reasonable but they may not just have been taught that particular aspect on the subject, though it was covered in general in the syllabus. And so I thought I would write a particular question which solved this problem. It was in fact the sort of question you can only ever set once and it became in the end known as ‘Norm’s famous Question 9’. But the question was... and it was the final question on the final paper that I wrote: ‘Set yourself a question on any subject which has not been treated by other questions in this paper. Write down your question and then answer it. Marks will be awarded both for the quality of the question and the quality and relevance of the answer’. Now, that of course caused a bit of a stir in the examiners’ committee and some people didn’t want to let it through, but in the end I insisted that that was a reasonable thing to do, and I think it was appreciated by the people sitting the exam. But the interesting thing was that when I came to mark it, it wasn’t the only question that was popular on the paper. There were other questions – and by and large popular questions were well answered and unpopular questions were poorly answered – in other words there was something about the structure which is difficult about them. My Question 9 got about the average number of answers and the average number of questions so I felt that I was getting the measure of each of the candidates by the rest of the questions as well, and it was a useful moderating thing as well I think. So that was part of the examining aspect of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Royal Institute of Chemistry

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011