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Understanding Chemistry in Our World


Play Overview Video

Understanding Chemistry in Our World is an introductory chemistry course of 14 lessons designed for adult students who are non-science majors. The centerpiece for each lesson is a video from the award-winning video series, Understanding Chemistry in Our World.  Each video explores a topic using a relevant case study to build understanding for the chemical foundations of everything students see and experience around us.
Each  lesson includes a number of interactive games and practice activities that engage students and reinforce learning and the lesson ends with a quiz. Students explore individual topics through visits to various locations including:

  • Lawrence Livermore Laboratories to see how covalent bonding is used to create designer molecules that treat disease.
  • Hinckley, California to see discover how an ion, hexavalent chromium, contaminated groundwater supplies (and made Erin Brockovich famous).
  • Yellowstone National Park to examine various types of chemical reactions.
  • A sewage treatment plant to explore the difference between mixtures and solutions and their behaviors as wastewater is transformed into pure water.
  • A doctor’s office to discover the role that acid/base chemistry plays in the development and treatment of gastrointestinal reflux disorder.

The textbook to accompany this course is Understanding Chemistry in Our World , written by Nancy Gardner, Byron Howell, Kenneth R. Ostrowski, and Einhard Schmidt with the support of a National Academic Advisory Team, and edited by Susan Wilcox. The textbook is also well-suited for a traditional, face-to-face non-majors course. Additional information is provided under the “How to Adopt Course & Print Materials” tab below. To request access to an electronic review copy of the textbook, please contact Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

For access to Coast Learning Systems’ online course preview site, please complete a Preview Request Form.

Lesson Titles and Descriptions

1. Chemistry and the Amazing Table

The more you know about chemistry the more you will be able to predict, control and manipulate the world around you. Since human kind learned to control fire, we have yearned to understand why the world behaves the way it does. Chemistry is often referred to as the “central science,” because of its pivotal role in the study of all other sciences.

This lesson will provide the framework for the rest of your study of chemistry. You will learn that matter is all around us, and chemistry helps us categorize matter in many different ways to serve our purposes. Whether we are creating new medications, striving to make our society more “green,” or simply trying to understand why water plays such an important role in our lives, chemistry helps us define the world.

Although many tools are used by chemists, it is the periodic table of elements (PTE) that drives our ability to organize the matter around us. From chemical and physical properties, to the states or phases of matter, or the relationship between matter and energy, to the atomic structure that we can’t see, chemists yearn to organize and understand and the periodic table is at the heart of this work.

2. Bonding: Atomic Glue

Lesson 2 is a crucial lesson because it takes you from discussing the elements in isolation to exploring how these elements interact with each other at the atomic level, and how chemists, including you, can predict these interactions. As you were introduced, or most likely reintroduced, to the elements in the periodic table, you learned the important role protons play in defining one element from the next. As we move our focus to bonding in this lesson you will shift your focus to the electrons, since they define how elements interact with each other. You will learn about the types of bonds that can develop, how to depict those interactions visually, as well as begin to explore some of the rules and strategies that allow chemists to explain why the world around us changes and why it works the way it works. Although you can’t see what is happening around you at the atomic level, this lesson will give you the tools to visualize and understand how elements interact to form materials you use everyday like water, table salt, and more.

3. Ionic Compounds: Opposites Do Attract

In Lesson 2, you were introduced to the two types of chemical bonds: ionic and covalent. In this lesson, you will dive deeper into the ionic compounds. You will quickly realize that ionic compounds are everywhere: they are found in foods, beverages, medications, and household products and play an important role in your health. As you will learn, some ions are good for you while others can be hazardous to your health. You will continue to use the periodic table to guide your understanding of ionic bonds, but you will also being learning about some bonds that don’t follow some of the rules you have learned about so far. Moreover, you will start to explore some more complex bonds in which compounds form in different ratios to help fulfill the octet rule. You will also learn some naming conventions for ionic compounds, which will be very helpful as you explore the world of this diverse group of compounds.

4. Molecules: When Atoms Share Elecrons

While covalent compounds, also called molecular compounds, only consist of the 16 nonmetals you see on the right side of the periodic table, they make up the most diverse and flexible types of interactions. You first learned about molecular compounds along with ionic compounds in Lesson 3. In that same lesson, you learned more about the ionic bonds that develop when electrons are transferred between elements. Now in Lesson 4, you will focus on molecular bonds and the compounds they form. You will learn the role that shape plays in determining the chemical and physically properties of molecules and the compounds they form, why they are so flexible in their interactions, and how we are striving to manipulate the properties of these compounds to improve our lives — both inside and outside our bodies.

5. Organic Molecules

This lesson provides a wonderful introduction to why organic compounds play such an integral role in our bodies and the world around us. You will learn how to identify organic compounds, the role carbon plays in the amazing diversity of organic compounds, as well as further emphasis on why shape matters so much in chemistry.

6. Chemical Reactions: Atoms Find New Partners

The presence of ongoing change is a reality we cannot escape, but most change is related to chemistry and takes place at a level you can’t see. This lesson explores three key topics:

  • How to identify whether a chemical or physical change has occurred.
  • How to classify chemical reactions into categories to help predict the outcome.
  • How to calculate substances to ensure the necessary amounts of the ingredients are used and the desired amount of material is created.

Without knowledge of these three topics, life in our world would be very different since most of items we use everyday were created using principles related to these topics.

7. Energy Makes Things Happen

This lesson focuses on the role energy plays in the reactions that go on around us and inside us every day. You will also learn that we do not know as much about energy as you might think. We know it exists and the impact it has on our world, but explaining what energy really is continues to baffle scientists. Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand the types of energy that exist and how they influence our world.

8. Gasses, Liquids, Solids: Going Through Phases

This lesson brings to life the amazing physical changes that are going on around us every day . From making coffee, to melting butter, to seeing condensation on your car in the morning, the chemistry of state or phase transitions is amazing to observe and understand. You will use a lot of what you already learned in previous lessons as you explore how substances behave differently as they change states (gas, liquid, solid). Although kinetic energy is the key ingredient that drives all these changes, there are other laws and forces that explain why substances behave differently when energy is applied. Molecules are always moving and this lesson will help explain the impact of that movement on you and how you interact with the world around you.

9. Solutions: Mixing It Up!

This lesson provides a real-world look at the role of mixtures and solutions in our lives. You will begin by exploring the different types of mixtures and their characteristics. Then you will move on to learn a bout a special type of mixture called a solution. Although you have heard the term solution many times before, you will be surprised by how prominent solutions are in society and the many forms they take. You will explore real-world examples of solutions, including what constitutes a solution, the role certain properties play in how they function and are used, as well as ways to measure and talk about solutions. From reading labels in the food and drinks you consume, to the cleaning solutions you use around the house, to the varied strengths of the medicines you take, solutions are all around.

10. Rates and Equilibrium: Controlling Reactions

This lesson adds additional detail to what you already learned regarding what factors must be present for reactions to occur. In earlier lessons, you learned why certain substances react while others do not. In this lesson, you learn how successful reactions occur and why they occur at different rates. The factors (or variables) you learn about in this lesson can be applied to all of the millions of reactions that are occurring around you right now. The video explains these factors using the air we breathe as an example and the textbook provides many other real – world applications of this information. Think about the world around you as you review this lesson.

11. Acid/Base Chemistry: Proton Power

This lesson continues the discussion of acids and bases started in Lesson 6. You will learn how to identify the difference between acids, bases, and salts, including their structure, formula, physical properties, and the substances they interact with. You will also learn about integral role of neutralization reactions as well as hydrogen and water. You will then learn the importance o f knowing the difference between dangerous and safe acids and bases. Your perception of weak and strong will be altered along the way, and you will fi nish this lesson with a better awareness of how to safely handle these substances that are everywhere around you.

12. Electrochemistry: The Chemistry of Batteries

This lesson sheds light on the amazing world of batteries. Did you ever wonder why some batteries can be recharged while others are simply thrown away? What about why some rechargeable batteries should be completely discharged before recharging while other rechargeable batteries can be used with no such concern? What is the reasoning for the various shapes and sizes of batteries? Despite the fact there are many different batteries and uses for batteries, they all share some common components. This lesson will introduce you to these components and help you better understand the workings behind the batteries from the past, present and even the future.

13. Nuclear Chemisty: Nature’s Power Pack

Nuclear energy has been a controversial topic for decades, and this lesson will equip you with the necessary knowledge to join any conversation about the topic. You will begin by analyzing nuclear reactions so you can identify what is occurring at the atomic level. You then will use this information to explore why nuclear reactions are so energetic as well as build awareness around the differences between the three types of nuclear reactions. Finally, you will dive into the benefits and risks of nuclear energy to help you solidify your own position on its use or misuse. As energy needs continue to increase, nuclear energy will continue to be at the center of the discussion in the United States as well as around the world.

14. Biochemistry: The Chemistry of Life

In this lesson, you learn a great deal about the depth to which chemistry explains every part and process related to the human body. As you know, chemistry often deals with small, almost invisible substances, and in this lesson you will focus on the cell. You will also explore in detail how much our body is affected by the various sources of energy you eat, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. As you will discover, your body and your health are not solely determined by how much you exercise and what you eat. Genetics, in the form of DNA, helps explain who you are and even who you may become, including the types of diseases you may inherit that have afflicted the people you are related to. Why are fats not all bad? Why should you not cut out carbohydrates completely, even when on a diet? How can a disease from your grandfather pass on to you? You will find answers to all these questions and more in the final lesson of this chemistry course.

National Academic Advisory Team

Nancy Gardner, M.S., Lecturer, Department of Chemistry, California State University, Long Beach
Byron Howell, Ed.D., Professor of Chemistry and Coordinator, SCRMCC, Tyler Junior College
William Nguyen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry, Santa Ana College
Ken Ostrowski, M.S.Ed., Professor of Chemistry, Coastline Community College
Ratna Pankayatselvan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dona Ana Community College (needs the accent over the “n” in Dona)
Bob Perkins, Ph.D., Professor of Organic Chemistry, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Richard Schwenz, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, University of Northern Colorado
Einhard Schmidt, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, Santa Monica College
Joan Stover, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, South Seattle Community College
Edward Walton, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry and Science Education, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

On-Camera Experts

Rod Balhorn, Ph.D., Biochemist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Rochelle Becker, Executive Director, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility
Kurt Berchtold, Assistant Executive Officer, California Regional Water Quality Control Board
Erin Brockovich, President, Brockovich Research & Consulting
Paul Buonora, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, California State University, Long Beach
Norma Chavez-Nielsen, Owner, Churrolandia Bakery & The Funnel Cake Factory
Kim Christensen, B.S., Laboratory Supervisor, Orange County Sanitation District
David R. Cocker, Ph.D., Chemical & Environmental Engineer, and Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Riverside
John Contario, Ph.D., Analytical Chemist, and Senior Pharmaceutical Consultant
Bill Cooper, President, Center for Liquefied Natural Gas
Rory Cox, California Program Director, Pacific Environment
Lea Crosetti, R.D., Registered Dietician, Kaiser Permanente
Veena Damle, M.D., Pediatrician, Kaiser Permanente
Shivaji Deshmukh, M.S., Program Manager, Orange County Water District
Imran Farooq, Project Manager, Green Valley Initiative

Mark Filowitz, Ph.D., Physical Chemist, and Associate Dean of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, California State University, Fullerton
Philip M. Fine, Ph.D., Atmospheric Measurements Manager, South Coast Air Quality Management District
Patrick Fleming, Ph.D., Physical Chemist, and Assistant Professor, San Jose State University
Nancy Gardner, M.S., Lecturer of Chemistry, California State University, Long Beach
Stanfield L. Gertler, M.D., Internal Medicine, Kaiser Permanente
Jacqueline Gervay-Hague, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Davis
Barry Gilman, B.S.M.E., Project Manager, Southern California Edison
Stacy Gleixner, Ph.D., Chemical & Materials Engineer, and Associate Professor, San Jose State University
Eric M. Goldin, Ph.D., Radiation Safety Specialist, Southern California Edison
Carol Grimes, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Chemistry, Golden West College
Peter Gyulai, Ph.D., Chemical Engineer
Ingrid Hellebrand, Public Information Specialist, Orange County Sanitation District
Susan Jordan, Director, California Coastal Protection Network
Stephen Joseph, CEO, Ban Trans Fats
Felice Lightstone, Ph.D., Senior Computational Biochemist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Marco Lopez, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, California State University, Long Beach
Brian McClain, Ph.D., Physical Chemist, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry, California State University, Long Beach

Laurie Melby, Coastline Community College
Stephen Mezyk, Ph.D., Physical/Environmental Chemist, Professor, Physical & Environmental Chemistry, California State University Long Beach
Craig Miller, Assistant General Manager, Orange County Water District
Bruce Mincher, Ph.D., Radiochemist/Research Scientist, Idaho National Laboratory
Joe Norbeck, Ph.D., Director of Environmental Research, CE-CERT, University of California, Riverside
Ken Ostrowski, M.S.Ed., Professor of Chemistry, Coastline Community College
Rodolfo L. Perez, Project Manager, Southern California Edison
Einhard Schmidt, Ph.D., Professor, Santa Monica College
Barry Sears, Ph.D., Author, The Zone, and President, Inflammation Research Foundation
A..J. Shaka, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine
Vince Signorotti, Vice President, Cal Energy Operating Corporation
Terry Thornsley, Artist-Sculptor, Thornsley Art Studio
Yushan Yan, Ph.D., Chemical Engineer, and Chair, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Riverside

The Chemical Insight sections and the interesting tidbits of information in the margins are fantastic because they explain things in the real world that students would be familiar with, and possibly have wondered why they were so."
Nicole Stevens, Brigham Young University


Instructors can customize the course by making learning assets open or closed to student view, add learning assets such as new assignments, discussion forums, web research activities, and extra credit work. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term. Finally, there is the option of turning on automatic student tracking that simplifies the evaluation process.

How to Adopt Course & Print Materials

There is no fee paid by an institution or instructor when the online course/content is adopted. Each student is required to purchase a one-time use Access Code. To adopt and offer this course online, instructors complete an Online Course Request Form prior to the start of each term, and a course shell will be provided by the date requested. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term. This online course is hosted and provided in a Moodle® (LMS) shell, and instructors can link from their institution’s LMS or send their students directly to the class URL. Coast Learning Systems provides instructor and student technical support via an electronic help desk, which is monitored 7 days a week. Our goal is to make sure you enjoy teaching with our content and that your students have an engaging and positive learning experience.

The Online Course Request Form should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the start of your class.

Understanding Chemistry in Our World
Kendall Hunt Publishing Company
There are two ISBNs associated with this course.
1. Textbook (Printed): 978-0-7575-6017-0
2. Textbook (Electronic Delivery): 978-1-4652-1220-7
Online Course Access Code Sold Separately: ISBN TBD
Note: The textbook is well-suited for a traditional, face-to-face non-majors course.

If you are interested in licensing just the videos as a resource for your own online, hybrid, or traditional course, please contact our office. In areas where connectivity is a challenge, DVDs are a perfect solution. All of the video lessons are available in a professionally produced set of DVDs and are available directly from Coast Learning Systems. Please contact our office for DVD options and pricing, (800) 547-4748.