Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education, Mallinson Institute

First Advisor

Dr. William W. Cobern

Second Advisor

Dr. Steven B. Berlman

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert H. Poel

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Aletta Zietsman-Thomas


A qualitative case study of eight doctoral level organic chemists from academia (6) and industry (2) solved eleven qualitative organic analysis problems using the Identification of Organic Compounds* software computer simulation. Think-aloud protocols were analyzed for content knowledge and strategic knowledge to account for expert performance. Each of the eleven qualitative organic analysis problems included a variety of functional groups and structures and was solved in a computer-simulated environment to allow for extensive problem-solving by the experts and to evaluate the simulation’s ability to model the problem-solving environment The data provided consisted of the typical instrumentation available to university undergraduate students, including infrared, proton nuclear magnetic resonance, carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance, and mass spectral data. Traditional wet chemistry data were also provided in the software, including solubility tests, fusion tests, classification tests, and derivatives. The subjects from industry did not effectively utilize the wet chemistry techniques, whereas the subjects from academia emphasized spectrometric techniques but also used wet chemistry techniques. Only two of the subjects made the determination of an empirical formula an initial part of their problem-solving strategy. This strategy was used on 24 percent of the problems. On 16 percent of the problems the subjects reverted to calculating an empirical formula when the problem became difficult to solve. The most effective strategy for utilizing the percent composition was to check the answer’s percent composition with the elemental analysis. This was 100 percent successful and was used on 15 percent of problems. The elemental analysis was not used quantitatively by these experts on 45 percent of the problems. Problem-solving was idiosyncratic in that subjects utilized a particular experimental method that they were the most comfortable interpreting as their initial experimental space search. Then subsequent problem-solving largely consisted of a series of explorations of the experimental space with subsequent searches for confirmation of model-building conclusions drawn from the data. Derivatives were used exclusively by the academic chemists both to search for solutions and to confirm proposed solutions.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access