Vol.3, No.2 
The Chemical Educator 
© 1998 Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 
ISSN 1430-4171
S 1430-4171(98)02194-2 
Book / Software Review

Which compound? Which route? An exercise in chemical decision making (Royal Society of Chemistry)

Reviewed by
Iain Farrell
Harrow School, Harrow, England

Which compound? Which route? An exercise in chemical decision making. 80 pages, softcover, (Royal Society of Chemistry), 1996. ISBN 1-870343-37-9. Price 14.95 pounds sterling.

Which compound? Which route? is provided on both hard copy and interactive floppy disk. Students are led through the process of choosing one of three types of pharmaceutical drug, and then one of eight different compounds to synthesize.

 Problems to consider during the exercise are market forces, side effects of metabolites, solubility, physiological effects of substituents, yields and relative safety of competing synthetic pathways. (It sounds much more complicated than it really is!) The book is organized like a programmed-learning text, and the convenient, numbered, cut-away corners greatly simplify the task of finding one's way.

The text provides very clear guidance with limited scope to go wrong, and well-argued reasons are given for rejecting some choices, including, en passant, some sound advice on oral hygiene. The chemical structures used are fairly complex for a high-school course, but are appropriate for practicing functional group recognition in polyfunctional compounds toward the end of the course. Some of the reagents used in synthetic steps are not in all current A-level syllabi in the U.K., but there are no "black magic" reactions that might baffle a good student and there is ample information provided to complete the exercise successfully.

A novel feature is the cut-out synthetic step cards that may be juggled around on a flat surface to find the most efficient synthetic route to the desired product; these cards are not available in the electronic version, so the user has to have access to the hard copy as well.

The disk version contains hypertext for use with a PC running Windows. Using a 486-based PC with Windows 3.1, the links between pages take only three or four seconds and help to keep up the pace of the activity. Chemical structures are very clearly displayed, showing functional groups in full and using the Kekule convention. I have used this software as a problem-solving exercise for individual students as a break from class revision and the time taken per student is about half an hour with considerable customer satisfaction at an apparently complex job well done. As with many software publications, limited access to a networked or stand-alone set of computers sufficient for a whole class is a limitation on usage.

A head of science from New York was so impressed with this publication that she ordered one after seeing our copy in use.