Fresh chapter for well-versed bible

Physical Chemistry - Physical Chemistry. Fifth edition - Principles and Problems in Physical Chemistry for Biochemists. Third edition - Atkins' Physical Chemistry. Seventh edition
February 28, 2003

The seventh edition of Peter Atkins' magisterial Physical Chemistry is marked by the appearance of a co-author, Julio de Paula of Haverford College, Pennsylvania, strengthening areas relating to biology and no doubt also with an eye to the US market. Nevertheless, the book retains the hallmark of Atkins' style: authoritative, clear and, despite its length, agreeably terse.

Compared with the sixth edition, some material has been added (notably, a chapter on electron-transfer processes, the introduction of time-dependent perturbation theory and a more extended treatment of quantum theory); some has been rearranged (for example, the collection into a single chapter of topics relating to the solid state); and the sequence of chapters has been changed to facilitate use as a "straight-through" text or as a chapter-by-chapter source of material for more specialist courses on individual topics.

Familiar features of earlier editions, including the presentation of mathematical proofs and derivations in "justification" sections separate from the descriptive text, "molecular interpretations" of bulk phenomena, examples, illustrations and an extended range of problems, all reappear here, together with the use of one or two-page "boxes" discussing the physical basis of important biological and non-biological phenomena. A fascinating box in chapter 17 on the photochemistry of vision is a good example.

In terms of presentation, the book makes good use of a two-colour format and is lavishly illustrated, with nearly 900 diagrams alongside the text.

The CD-Rom has been replaced by a website, a striking feature of which is the introduction of "living graphs" showing how the shapes of functions change when the parameters are altered.

In successive editions, this book has become more accessible and more useful, for student and teacher alike, and this edition is the best yet. It is difficult to see its being replaced as the bible for physical chemistry students for years to come. Unfortunately, biblical authority is accompanied by biblical size - this edition runs to 150 pages more than its predecessor and at 2.5kg it is not a book to be taken lightly.

The fifth edition of Ira Levine's Physical Chemistry covers much the same ground as Atkins, with inevitable differences of priority and emphasis.

Changes from the fourth edition include a greater emphasis on the application of physical principles to biological systems and extended coverage of computational methods, as well as numerous detail additions and amendments.

New or greatly enlarged sections deal at some length with density functional theory, molecular mechanics and quantum chemistry calculations, and several chapters include specific instructions on the use of spreadsheet methods to analyse data, solve problems and derive physical constants. Overall, the book has perhaps a more computational and "theoretical" slant than Atkins' book, although the preface rather surprisingly suggests that a new section on symmetry point groups and representations can be omitted if desired.

The text is presented as a more or less continuous narrative, with relatively little separation of mathematical material, special topics or pedagogical aids other than illustrative examples and end-of-chapter problems. Although important equations, derivations and formulae are clearly presented on separate lines, other calculations and equations arising in the general discussion are often incorporated in the running text. Where these extend over more than one line, the detailed arguments are not always easy to follow. A new section on the failure of Le Chatelier's principle is a case in point. References to sources and original work are given in parentheses in the text, rather than as footnotes or at the chapter end. While this serves as a useful reminder that the material discussed has not simply sprung complete from the head of the author but is a compilation of the work of many individuals over a very long period, it does tend to break up the flow of the text. Overall, the approach adopted leads to useful economies in size, using the planet's resources at a rate of 0.8kg per volume less than Atkins' book, but it has to be said that in some parts this book is not an easy read. There appears to be no supplementary electronic material, at least for this international edition. According to a publishers' statement, "some ancillaries, including electronic and print components may not be available to customers outside the US".

The other two books under review deal with physical chemistry for biological scientists. The contents pages in both cases show the same emphasis on thermodynamics, kinetics and molecular structure, but there the resemblance ends. The new edition of Principles and Problems in Physical Chemistry for Biochemists (no less than 24 years after its predecessor) aims very clearly for coverage of basic principles and assumes relatively little prior knowledge, other than a normal school background in chemistry and fairly rudimentary mathematics. In effect, the approach is to deal with underlying principles from an essentially "chemical" point of view (indeed, for the topics covered this could be a useful introductory text for pure chemistry students), moving on to discuss the applications of these principles in biological systems.

Physical Chemistry: Principles and Applications in Biological Sciences is an altogether bigger (and more expensive) book, written from a more overtly biological standpoint and making considerably greater assumptions about the reader's background in chemistry. Thus, the text deals with redox systems using purely biological examples and nowhere defines an oxidation or reduction process. This is apparently assumed as given knowledge. Principles and Problems , by contrast, starts from first principles using the Cu2+/Zn system and moves on from there. Similarly, Principles and Problems devotes a whole chapter to acid-base systems and pH, all of which again appears to be taken for granted by the authors of Principles and Applications . At the other end of the scale, Principles and Applications includes extensive sections on methods of structure determination, electron microscopy and molecular motions (electrophoresis and sedimentation) that have no counterparts in Principles and Problems .

Overall, Principles and Problems is a good, relatively user-friendly text for biology and biochemistry students needing to secure a firm foothold in essential chemical principles. Principles and Applications is likely to appeal to a more advanced readership, including experienced biologists requiring a more developed understanding of relevant physical science, and chemists with increasing interests in biological systems.

Geoff McQuillan was senior lecturer in chemistry, University of Aberdeen.

Physical Chemistry: Principles and Applications in Biological Sciences. Fourth edition

Author - Ignacio Tinoco Jr, Kenneth Sauer, James C. Wang and Joseph D. Puglisi
ISBN - 0 13 095943 X
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £33.99
Pages - 740

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