A useful addition to help novices

Maths for Chemists
February 25, 2005

As one of the least "dumbed down" of all degree-level subjects, chemistry has in recent years struggled to compete for prospective students who find a comfort zone in much softer options. Since much of the subject's perceived difficulty is associated with the mathematical skills required, Martin Cockett and Graham Doggett are to be congratulated for a brave attempt to make chemistry more accessible to the less mathematically inclined.

In contrast to the highbrow mathematics textbooks usually recommended to science undergraduates, these twin volumes have a pleasantly informal feel. The pace is slow, and important points are re-emphasised using examples and summaries appearing in large pink panels. Answers to the problems are to be found at the end of each book. The target audience is defined clearly enough: the less mathematically adept or experienced chemistry undergraduate. Realistically, few will read, let alone work, through these two volumes from cover to cover. Nonetheless, the text and the problems should prove useful to students struggling with particular areas of mathematics.

It is, however, extraordinary that the texts omit statistics and probability completely.

The section on group theory is too short to be of much practical use, containing nothing at all about representations. The authors also pass off the unnecessarily complicated "round-to-even" approach as "generally accepted", a claim with which many would take issue.

A final gripe is that these works give an unrealistic impression that most differential equations are analytically soluble - some counter-examples and a discussion of numerical methods might have been useful.

That said, these volumes have much to commend them, with broad-ranging coverage of most relevant areas of mathematics and generally clear explanations.

John Mitchell is lecturer in molecular informatics, Cambridge University.

Maths for Chemists: Volume I: Numbers, Functions and Calculus Volume II: Power Series, Complex Numbers and Linear Algebra. First Edition

Author - Martin Cockett and Graham Doggett
Publisher - Royal Society of Chemistry
Pages - 183 and 133
Price - £14.95 each
ISBN - 0 85404 677 1 and 495 7

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