Intended link is a faulty bridge

The Quantum in Chemistry
February 24, 2006

The quantum is deeply embedded in chemistry, for it is impossible to understand the structures and properties of materials or to interpret the increasingly sophisticated investigative techniques that chemists use without appreciating its role. Consequently, every undergraduate needs to have more than a passing familiarity with quantum mechanics, and anyone who does research would be hobbled if he or she were ignorant of at least its most central ideas.

Roger Grinter felt that existing books on quantum theory directed at chemists (and here I must declare an interest) failed to provide bridges between experiment and theory. Thus he has directed this book at advanced undergraduates, graduates and what he calls "experienced research project leaders".

For such a bridge to be built and readily crossed, a very special approach is needed, perhaps one in which experimental case studies take centre stage and it is shown how quantum concepts and procedures are used to deepen our understanding or to extract fine details. That is not the case here, for the exposition is hardly any different from well-established texts except for the boxing away of some of the intricate busy-work of quantum chemistry. As such, it is hard to see how The Quantum in Chemistry will appeal especially to experimentalists. It is perhaps surprising that there is hardly any discussion of what is probably currently the most important impact of the quantum in chemistry - modern electronic structure calculations and their correlation with molecular properties.

The first four chapters lay the foundations, with rather too much space spent, in my view, on history and philosophy. I found it puzzling that the author adopts totally idiosyncratic notation for angular momentum operators and various integrals. The next three chapters describe atomic and molecular structure (with an erroneous description of the radial distribution function).

Then the meat of the book begins, with four chapters on spectroscopy, defined here as the study of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter (which would seem to include diffraction). There is only a passing mention of group theory, the key to understanding most spectroscopic transitions, a largely erroneous discussion of the properties of photons, and a misleading account of time-dependent perturbation theory.

I came to this book with enthusiasm and goodwill, but I find it difficult to envisage what kind of experimentalists, project leaders or not, would come away better prepared to interpret their results after working through its pages. But, then, I am not an experimentalist and someone who is might take the opposite view.

Peter Atkins is professor of chemistry, Oxford University, and author of Molecular Quantum Mechanics .

The Quantum in Chemistry: An Experimentalist's View. First Edition

Author - Roger Grinter
Publisher - Wiley
Pages - 459
Price - £90.00 and £35.00
ISBN - 0 470 01317 6 and 01318 4

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