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Chemical History of the Candle

Chat times for Summer 2024
11:00a-12:30p ET/8:00a-9:30a PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

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Methods and Procedurs for The Chemical History of the Candle

Reading Assignments and WebLectures

Assigned readings for each chat session will be posted in the course schedule. We will do some introductory work the first week, then proceed at one lecture per week, about 20 pages.

Reading The Chemical History of the Candle Lectures

According the historical records, Faraday did not write his lectures ahead of time. He planned them carefully, practiced the demonstrations, then delivered them spontaneously as he walked about the lecture stage in front of his audience. The lectures in our text were taken down in shorthand by a trained scientific reporter who attended each lecture and endeavored to capture not only the substance of the lectures, but also the lecturer's style. In most cases, we can assume that the wording is Faraday's own wording, as delivered, but we can't always be sure that any particular sentence is exactly what Faraday said.

Because the lectures were not prepared as complete text for a reader audience, we must approach them in a different way than we would read a standard textbook. We are used to well-organized texts which follow a very logical progression of concepts, with all the implications worked by the author ahead of time, and the actual course of discovery rearranged to show fundamental concepts first, then more complicated ones. Faraday has organized his lectures according to the way his audience might investigate the operation of a candle, starting from scratch (watching the candle burn) and moving to more and more detailed observations of different phenomena associated with the candle. So he seems to jump back and forth between similar ideas sometimes. This means you may have to read a lecture very carefully in order to understand the underlying theme he has chosen.

Another difference between these lectures and normal prose lies in the reporter's style. The paragraphs are organized according to the view of the audience, and may have several ideas which are based on some unspoken principle which the reporter observed — perhaps Faraday was standing in front of a single piece of apparatus as he talked, and the reporter thought of the ideas as flowing together and pertaining to that apparatus — rather than the words Faraday was using. Watch for changes in emphasis in the paragraphs!

Always keep in mind that these were lectures, given to an audience. As we read the lecture, we must imagine Faraday strolling from one piece of apparatus to another, performing different demonstrations as he talked. Sometimes, the audience could see things which Faraday did — and since the audience was seeing, Faraday had no need to describe the event they watched. As a result, there sometimes appear to be "holes" in the lecture. At those points we need to read the text very carefully to figure out what Faraday was doing, what the audience was seeing, and supply the missing information from our own experience. If you get to such a section, and cannot determine what is happening, check the reading notes on the course web pages for help. If you still don't understand what is happening, be sure to ask about the puzzling section in class.


Each reading assignment includes an online "weblecture". Please read these before chat. The weblectures contain suggestions for helping you deal with the reading, as well as introducing the lab work and discussing key points in chemistry. Reading these lectures on your own time will allow us to focus our chat time on your questions, which is far more interesting and exciting than having you watch or read while I talk.


We will use the Scholars Online MOODLE environment to collect your written work. You should receive a password for your account and be able to log once your membership is paid. Your personal homepage will contain links to the course materials, which will be displayed week by week with forums where you can post your lab work, read the labs from your fellow students, make comments, and learn from each other.

Experiments and Lab Reports

Each week, you will be assigned a lab exercise to carry out during the week. You will need to plan your time so that you can complete your experiments and write up your reports by 6pm PT of the evening before chat, so that your fellow students will have some time to read through your work. More details on lab expectations, equipment, and requirements are given at the Labs page.


Chats start promptly and last 90 minutes. Plan your meals accordingly!

Scholars Online uses a text-based chat (no live audio or video), although the chat medium is capable of supporting both audio uploads, graphics, and video from the teacher. We have found this method of discussion has several advantages: