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John Fortman

Contributor II
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Fortman_John.jpgJohn Fortman received the 2007 Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach. He is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Wright State University where he retired in 2001 after 36 years of teaching freshman and inorganic chemistry. In 1998 he was appointed the Robert J. Kegerreis Distinguished Professor of Teaching and won seven different teaching awards over the years at Wright State. In 1998 he received the CMA Catalyst Award for Outstanding Teaching of College Chemistry. Dr. Fortman received his B.S. from the University of Dayton in 1961 and his Ph.D. in physical inorganic chemistry from the University of Notre Dame in 1965. He has published over 50 papers in chemical education in addition to his research publications. With Rubin Battino he has produced a seven DVD set which contains ten hours of chemical demonstrations for use at middle school through college levels plus a live show and blooper outtakes. For over 30 years he has done chem demo outreach shows for middle and high school students in the Dayton area and continues to inspire and fascinate over 8000 students each year with at least 17 shows. He has done workshops on teaching and demonstrations around the country. He has designed alternative courses for general chemistry, elementary chemistry and chemistry for elementary education majors. His course for non-science students was cited as a model in the 1990 AAAS report on "The Liberal Art of Science: Agenda for Action". The alternative general chemistry course was developed while he was a member of the General Chemistry Task Force of the ACS Division of Chemical Education and starts with organic and biochemistry moving through materials and finishing with energy while empathizing applications and bringing in only those principles that are needed as they are necessary. The course has been characterized as being taught inside-out, upside-down, and backwards. His interests in addition to demonstrations and course content and organization include the use of analogies and videotaped material. John has been an ACS member since 1962 and was Councilor for the Dayton Local Section from 1996 to 2004. Since he became an ACS Tour Speaker in 1991 he has given over 310 section talks, visiting 163 of the 190 different local sections while doing 65 tours including all 29 different tours at least once. He has presented in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.


A College Chemistry Course Looking at the World about Us (but Not as a Scientist Does)

A new, year-long chemistry course for the general education program at Wright State University has been instituted. The objective of the science courses in this program is to give the average citizen a better understanding of the science and technology in the occurrences and applications of matter instead of vice versa. The course is as non-mathematical as possible. During all three quarters, a great deal of emphasis is placed on learning through observing in the laboratory and in demonstrations. The logical thinking processes used in science are pointed out. The students learn about the chemical nature of the world around them and gain an appreciation of what science and technology does for them and how it affects their lives.

America's Funniest Chemical Videos: Dazzling Demos and Videotaped Bloopers

Through the years, I have collected and edited many misadventures that Rubin Battino and I experienced in doing demonstration shows that were videotaped live. Difficulties encountered in the studio preparation of our three-hour set of videotaped demonstrations were also saved. These will make up one part of these showings. Gil Haight has given me permission to show portions of his Haightful Perils of Teaching which are spectacular in spite of technical problems. A videotape of Hubert Alyea doing his Old Nassau demonstration will be shown along with some tapes of others such as Bassam Shakhashiri and Ron Perkins caught in live demonstrations that presented problems. Portions of demonstrations by the Weird Science group will also be shown.

An Alternative Approach to General Chemistry: Teaching It Inside-Out, Upside-Down, and Backwards

Beginning in the fall of 1992, Wright State began offering an experimental alternative general chemistry sequence containing the core material identified by the General Chemistry Task Force of the ACS Division of Chemical Education, organized on a framework of meaningful uses or occurrences of chemistry. The course is backwards in that it starts with organic chemistry, which is usually taught at the end of the year if covered at all. It is inside-out as it is organized around applications and occurrences of chemistry and brings in concepts as needed instead of vice versa. It is upside-down as topics are chosen based on the interest or usefulness to all students instead of only training for chemistry majors. Emphasis is on educating students in chemistry instead of only training them to do calculations. The three major themes are, in the order of presentation, organic and biological chemistry, materials, and energy. Only those principles and concepts that are necessary to present these topics are developed and only as they become necessary. I will share the successes and failures; the difficulties encountered; some unexpected benefits of the revised sequencing; the administrative problems presented; some student participation that developed; and, perhaps most important, the students' reaction and evaluations.

Analogical Demonstrations and Pictures that Help Teach Chemical Concepts

Concrete analogies can be very helpful for teaching students abstract concepts. Visual demonstrations are very useful for helping students to remember lessons learned. Simple visual aids such as toy blocks, snap-lock beads, light sticks, volleyballs, glasses of water, and money will be used. Concepts such as multiple proportions, isomerization, polymerization, conservation of mass, heat transfer, bonding types, chemical combination versus physical mixing, conjugate acid-base pairs, energy levels, amino acid combinations in proteins, orbital hybridization, and classification by properties will be illustrated. Having pictures of the analogies also helps imprint them more firmly in the student's mind. Some analogies have been converted to artwork for slides or overhead transparencies. These relate to the states of matter, types of solids, dissociation of molecules in liquids, formula types, atomic and molecular weights, probability distributions, heat transfer, bonding, first order kinetics, polymerizations, and other topics.

Demonstrating the Awesome Variety of Things Chemists Do

Demonstrations and stories will be presented which illustrate how chemists discover chemicals and their reactions and find applications for them. Starting with man's first and greatest chemical invention "fire" demonstrations will be done to help explain the nature of and uses for chemical discoveries. As time allows connections will be made to mechanical energy, electricity, natural and man-made materials, food and medicines, light and sound, and even the fine arts.

Category: Chemical Education, Demonstrations, General Public, General Science, Industrial Chemistry

Demonstrating the Difference Between Fires and Explosions

In order to produce combustion one needs a fuel, a source of oxygen, and an initiator. This is presented in a surprising manner. Carbon dioxide and oxygen gases are produced to illustrate the difference between gases which do or do not support combustion. The vapor nature of burning is illustrated with a demonstration which dates back to Michael Faraday and his lectures on the candle. This open burning of fuel vapor which occurs when the fuel and oxygen come from different sources and burn at the interface of mixing is contrasted to explosions which occur when fuel and oxygen are gases are pre-mixed. The need for an exhaust stroke in the internal combustion engine to replenish oxygen is demonstrated. A visual illustration is presented comparing a rapid rough explosion and a slower smooth explosion and the difference related to octane rating of fuels. Videos of spectacular fires and explosions in demonstration bloopers and historic disasters will be shown.

Demonstrations of Everyday Applications of Chemistry

Live and videotaped chemical demonstrations will be used to illustrate the science behind many useful materials in everyday life. Various demonstrations relate to such things as metals, building materials, soaps and detergents, fuels and combustion, antifreeze, batteries and electronics, electricity and light, air pressure and valves, rubber, foam plastics, heat shrink plastics, foods, medicines, hot packs, cold packs, superabsorbent diapers, carbonated beverages, and weather prediction.

Energy from Chemistry Through the Ages: A Demo Presentation

Man’s first and greatest chemical invention – fire - began a parade of uses of combustion reactions to produce heat, light, mechanical energy, and electricity, as well as to cook food, refine metals, and produce materials. Voltaic cells and batteries gave man other ways to use chemical reactions to produce other forms of energy and do work. Chemiluminescence now gives man a way to produce light without fire, heat, or electricity. Chemical demonstrations will be done which illustrate the principles and applications of fires and explosions, voltaic cells, and luminescence. Analogies will be made to the internal combustion engine. Short video clips may be shown of applications and bloopers.

Humorous Chemistry on Popular TV Shows

Video clips will be show from old programs like "The Honeymooners" and "WKRP in Cincinnati" as well as newer shows like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Honey I Shrunk the Kids - TV Show." Others will come from talk/variety shows like the old Steve Allen Show and today's David Letterman Show. Live demos which add to the fun on the clips will be done.

John Adams, Saltpeter, and Black Powder: A Lighthearted Look at Some Colonial Chemistry

Portions of a videotape of the musical "1776" will present correspondence between John and Abigail Adams concerning the colonial army's need for saltpeter. An old household procedure for making saltpeter and using it to prepare black gunpowder will be shown. A disadvantage of using black powder as a propellant will be demonstrated. If the room is suitable, additional demonstrations illustrating the difference between burning and exploding will be done.

Live Chemical Demos are Always Better than Videotaped Demos BUT...

Although chemical demonstrations are almost always more effective presented live, there are times when even the experienced demonstrator may better choose to use a video presentation. Some reasons for doing so include visibility, size, expense, difficulty, toxicity, fumes, danger, lack of facilities, availability of special equipment, shortening the time for long demonstrations, and special effects such as slow motion. Examples of many such demonstrations taken from a number of the available videos will be shown. These will be interspersed with a number of live demos on video. Suggestions for how to effectively use videotaped demos will be made.

The Chemistry of Flight

The year 2003 was the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. In this presentation demonstrations will be done which illustrate the science involved in flight and the development of modern materials needed to move into the space age. The first demo will illustrate the action of gravity, followed by a demo of how this action produces atmospheric pressure. The third demo shows that this pressure acts in all directions and not just down. The next demos illustrate how moving air produces pressure differences and this will be connected to how lift is produced. The second portion of the presentation will focus on the chemistry involved in traditional airplane engines and jet and rocket thrust. The third portion of the talk will use demonstrations and video clips to present some classic cases of improvement of materials for lighter, safer materials for construction and operation of airplanes and space ships. This presentation was developed under an educational outreach contract from the Materials Research Labs at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton OH. Equipment required: Overhead projector and VHS vcr system with video projector or monitors for size of the audience and room. A table for the demos.

The Chemistry of the Automobile

Students are often amazed to find out how much chemistry is related to the construction of an automobile and its operation. Fuels from power and lubricants to reduce friction are connected to organic chemistry. Catalytic converters do chemistry. Braking systems and shock absorbers function by fluid or pneumatic pressure. Rubber and nylon in tires are synthesized through chemistry. Steel, chrome, aluminum, and plastics are used structural and decorative parts. Metals require paints and waxes for protection against corrosion. These facets are enumerated and discussed using stories and live and videotaped demonstrations.

The Science of Magic

Magicians use the wonders of science to entertain but always keep the explanation or secret of their tricks from the audience. Science teachers use the wonders of science in demonstrations to develop interest in students but should also explain the mystery or principles behind their tricks. In this talk, the scientific explanations of the "magic tricks" shown will be presented in an educational fashion. Learn the science behind such tricks as the burning book, the non-burning cloth, the tablecloth pull, the heavy newspaper, the bottomless bottle, the egg in the bottle, the lidless bottle, the magic flask, the genie in the bottle, the rainbow liquid, and the needle thru the balloon.

The Science of the Arts

Chemical demonstrations will be used to relate chemistry and physics to the fine arts. Areas illustrated will include: color in pigments for painting and light for stages; stone and metals for sculpturing and architecture; transmission of sound through air for music; and science in literature, theater, movies, and television. The results of adding pigments, colored lights, or colored filters will be contrasted. The need for a light component of the same color as the pigment in order for our eyes to sense a given color will be demonatrated. Rapid motion of images and/or colors will be done which result in summation effects in our eyes. These phemonena will be related to stage lighting and television picture tubes. Sound will be shown to depend on (1) a wave disturbance, (2) the density of the media, (3) the pathway of the gas motion, and (4) the structure of the material in the instruments.

The Serious and Delirious Use of Chemistry in Movies

This presentation will begin with illustrations of brief mentions of chemistry in films where you might not expect it like The Graduate; It's a Wonderful Life; 1776; and Bells on Their Toes. Movies which feature science will then be contrasted between: then (the past) and now (the present); the real and the impossible; drama and comedy; and similar scenes in multiple movies. Featured clips will be selected from such films as Apollo 13; Dante's Peak; Chain Reaction; It Happens Every Spring; The Man in the White Suit; and Smoke. Several live chemical demonstrations relative to the movie scenes will be interspersed with the videos.

Updated Versions of Some of Faraday's Demonstrations Used with His Christmas Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle

The 1988 printing of Faraday's Chemical History of a Candle printed by the Chicago Review Press, contains 22 updated versions of demonstrations done by Faraday. Several of these along with others will be done, illustrating such topics as gas burning in a candle: atmospheric pressure and gas pressure; flames versus sparks; vacuum hemispheres; and a voltaic pile. Each demonstration is accompanied by quotes from Faraday's own lectures.


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