David Read reviews this applied text
Applying maths in the chemical and biomolecular sciences: an example-based approach
Oxford: OUP 2009 | Pp816 | £29.99 | ISBN 978 019 923 091 4
Maths and the physical sciences go hand-in-hand, yet students appear increasingly inclined to treat them separately in their thinking. This book is a comprehensive text that illustrates the importance of maths by presenting it alongside the science.
The preface states that this book is primarily aimed at final-year undergraduates and postgraduates, though the foundation of elementary material needed to develop understanding of the more advanced content is covered in detail for those with some grounding in mathematics. As such, this text may be of value to the cohort of students who arrive on university chemistry/biomolecular sciences programmes with A-level maths, but without the skills and/or confidence to apply it to the scientific context.
On the other hand, for students without some form of advanced maths in their portfolio this text may only be accessible with appropriate supplementary support, perhaps in the form of the 'maths for scientists' workshops which many departments now run for their students.
Any successful textbook needs to engage its readership in the educational experience, though this is something which maths textbooks have not always managed to do effectively. Beddard achieves this by incorporating numerous anecdotes of historical significance that raise the interest of readers who perhaps are not mathematically inclined. Examples encountered early in the book include the origins of the equals sign and the square root.
The strength of this book lies in the fact that it doesn't compromise on either its mathematical or scientific content. Most topics are introduced with an eye on the mathematics, but an appropriate scientific context is never far away. Beddard's recognition that terms sometimes appear to be 'pulled out of fresh air' is a welcome acknowledgement of the problem that students schooled in 'pure' maths face when it comes to changing 'x' into 'T', 'V' or 'p'.
By introducing the scientific context at the earliest possible opportunity, the author has ensured that students can develop an unrestricted understanding by learning to apply maths to problems encountered across their studies. This is particularly evident in the plethora of exercises and problems that are almost exclusively of scientific orientation.
As is so often the case these days, Beddard's text is supported by a suite of online material for use by staff and students. The availability of figures for staff to use in their teaching is welcome, and students will appreciate the presence of full solutions to all of the problems. It's worth noting that the solutions take the form of highly detailed PDF files which leave very little scope for misunderstanding. Furthermore, for those students who want to see the mathematics in action, the book contains many examples in MAPLE code. This will also be helpful in solving the more complex problems.
Academics teaching physical chemistry may view this as a useful text to recommend to their students. Indeed, sections of the book could be used to form the basis of the teaching of some of the principles of physical chemistry.
Overall, this is a well written text which 'does what it says on the can', and deserves the consideration of any motivated student who wants to enhance their understanding of mathematics and its application in science.