Biographical Statement for Nomination of Daniel C. Harris for
J. Calvin Giddings Award for Excellence in Analytical Chemical Education
I was born in 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. As a teenager, I enjoyed a science program on Saturdays at Columbia University, where I took note of especially good teaching by astronomy professor Lloyd Motz. In my freshman year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, excellent teaching of organic chemistry by Daniel S. Kemp diverted me from biochemistry to chemistry. A spectroscopy class from George F. Whitesides led me to Whitesides and his student Chuck Casey (later President of the American Chemical Society) for senior thesis research. I developed a strong consciousness for high quality teaching. Two other classes with noteworthy teaching quality were quantum mechanics from John S. Waugh and group theory from F. A. Cotton.
After graduating from MIT shortly before my 20th birthday, I headed to Caltech where I joined the research group of Harry B. Gray—an exceptional lecturer. After a year as a teaching assistant in organic chemistry, George S. Hammond and Harry Gray recognized a spark for teaching and offered me the opportunity to team teach an advanced freshman course. My graduate student partner, Michael D. Bertolucci, and I were given carte blanche to develop an interesting course for freshman that would not overlap other courses in the curriculum. We chose an overview of general chemistry for one term, followed by two terms of introduction to group theory and spectroscopy. We conducted a critique of each other’s lecture immediately after every class. I placed highest value in interest, content, clarity, and physical understanding, which became main goals in my textbook writing. At the age of 21, I found myself driven to write lecture notes which, upon the recommendation of Harry Gray, evolved into the book Symmetry and Spectroscopy. I team-taught the freshman course with other graduate students and had the academic rank of Instructor during my last year of graduate studies. For part of that year, I was a postdoc in the fledgling field of 13C-NMR spectroscopy with John D. Roberts.
After two years as a postdoc at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City with Philip Aisen—an exemplary mentor—I started my first faculty position at the University of California at Davis in 1975. I was assigned to teach analytical chemistry for sophomores and accelerated freshmen. This assignment was interesting because I had never taken a course in analytical chemistry. I arrived at MIT after analytical chemistry became an elective and flew through MIT too quickly to partake in the analytical course. I had practical analytical experience from undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research. My source of instruction in chemical equilibrium was the graduate course “Aquatic Chemistry” taught by J. J. Morgan at Caltech. At Davis, I sat in on an analytical courses taught by a senior member of the department to “learn the ropes” before being thrust before my first students in analytical chemistry.
My burning desire at Davis was to be the best teacher I could be. I was known for being available at all hours for student questions, for circulating through laboratories every day, and for memorizing the names and faces of every student. It became apparent to students that sitting in the back row of a 300-seat lecture hall did not offer immunity from being called upon by name to answer a question during lecture. I brought a demonstration into almost every lecture and each term ended with a series of explosions. The last class each term attracted far more students than were enrolled in the course. The majority of my students at Davis were life science majors whose interests resonated with my research interest in metalloproteins.
I surveyed every analytical textbook I could find and taught from several. I found the more thorough books to be dull and the more interesting books to be less thorough. After two years, I decided to write text to accompany my lectures. My goal was to be interesting and thorough in the selected topics. Publisher’s representatives saw my notes in the bookstore and soon there were five offers for publication. I visited each publisher and unashamedly adopted the best suggestions from each editor. In 1978, I signed with W. H. Freeman as the publisher I thought would produce the nicest book. After two more years of writing, a year of revision, and a year of production, the first edition of Quantitative Chemical Analysis was born in 1982.
By this time, I had not been offered tenure at Davis or at Franklin and Marshall College. I loved teaching, but decided to try a different career. In 1983, I moved to the U.S. Navy’s Michelson Laboratory at China Lake, California, where my present title is Senior Scientist. In the course of 25 years with the Navy, I was elected an Esteemed Fellow and received a Top Navy Scientist award. My research concerns transparent ceramic sensor windows. I have been teaching a professional course in this subject several times each year since 1990 and wrote the monograph Materials for Infrared Windows and Domes, which is the standard reference in its field.
Meanwhile, Quantitative Chemical Analysis sold well enough for the publisher to invite me to prepare a 2nd edition. I found myself with two full-time jobs—one for the Navy and a second as a textbook writer. My wife Sally has been editorial assistant and proofreader on every book. She produced all of the illustrations for Symmetry and Spectroscopy with a one-year-old watching over her shoulder. Thirty years after signing our contract with Freeman, we are working on the 8th edition. The book has had 12 foreign translations.
Our chief competitor, Doug Skoog (with coauthors West, Holler, and Crouch) had “big” and “little” books to serve two market levels. Freeman asked me to write a small book to complement Quantitative Chemical Analysis, but I hesitated to go into competition with myself. By 1995, we no longer had children in the house and the time was ripe for a “small” book. My priorities for Exploring Chemical Analysis were to be (1) short, (2) interesting, and (3) elementary—in that order. This book has now gone through 4 editions and 3 foreign translations.
A survey published in 2002 found that my two books were used in over half of the analytical chemistry courses in the United States. [P. A. Mabrouk, Anal. Chem. 2002, 74, 269A.] In 2008, Quantitative Chemical Analysis received the McGuffey Longevity Award from the Textbook and Academic Authors Association.
In my writing, I try to catch the reader’s attention and to convey excitement by illustrating each topic with interesting real-world examples. I try to get to the heart of a topic with the minimum number of words. It is good pedagogy to explain everything and not to assume prior knowledge on the part of the reader. Heavy use of illustrations makes ideas more understandable and memorable. Chapters are broken into short sections which are more digestable than long sections. Recalling my own student days, I include answers to all problems at the back of the book. Some teachers would rather have a set of problems without answers, but I have never heard a student complain about immediate feedback after working a problem. An informal writing style and a little humor provide a relaxed tone.
Quantitative Chemical Analysis evolved over 30-years. Spectrophotometry grew from one to three chapters as it moved from the middle of the book to the front and then to the middle again. Chromatography expanded from two to four chapters as its importance grew. Electrophoresis and mass spectrometry were added. Quality assurance, sampling, and sample preparation were added and quality assurance increased in importance. Computer programming projects were introduced in the second edition. Spreadsheets appeared in the fourth edition and increased in each subsequent edition. A spreadsheet-oriented chapter on advanced chemical equilibrium appeared in the seventh edition. Uniform, high-interest opening vignettes appeared in the fourth edition. Chapter 0 on the “analytical process” describing an actual student analysis of caffeine in chocolate appeared in the fifth edition. Gravimetric analysis was demoted to the back of the book. Electroanalytical chemistry decreased from five to four chapters. Instructions for experiments moved to the web in the sixth edition to make room for growth in other subjects.
Exploring Chemical Analysis began with brevity as the first goal. User feedback directed me to add several topics that had been rejected for the first edition. These topics included activity coefficients, systematic treatment of equilibrium, EDTA and redox titration curve calculations, and an expanded discussion of spectrophotometry. Placement of spectrophotometry early in the book did not fit well with many curricula, so the subject was moved back in the second edition. The third edition increased emphasis on quality assurance, integrated mass spectrometry with chromatography, and introduced inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry. Spreadsheets gradually increased in every edition. A short “ask yourself” question with an answer at the end of every worked example appeared in the fourth edition.
The most common comment I receive from teachers can be paraphrased as “I love your book and I wish it weren’t so long. And please add more on (fill in favorite topic).” Kolthoff, Sandell, Mehan, and Bruckenstein wrote in the preface of what was perhaps the most venerable analytical textbook of the 20th century, “as much as anyone, we regret the length of this revised edition ” (1170 pages) and “it is a very hard undertaking to seek to please everybody.”
A good textbook has the attributes of a good teacher. The best description I have seen for a good teacher is a person with a “deep understanding of the subject, unbounded enthusiasm, humor, and the ability to communicate excitement, clarity and precision of thought and word, and the ability to put oneself in the mind of a student new to the subject.” [C. Thyagaraja, Caltech News, 2000, 34, 11.] To these I would add the ability to convey the significance and applications of the subject. I strive toward these ends in my writing.