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Chemistry/Physics Seminar Literature Review (CHEM/PHYS 300/405/399/499/Etc.): Home

Basics of how to research and write a literature review in chemistry. CHEM 405

Chemistry Literature Reviews

Many of the topics covered in undergraduate chemistry courses are basic chemistry concepts. The foundational research may have been conducted years and years ago. The best places to get started are chemistry or science textbooks, chemistry or science reference publications (print or online), or review journal articles. These sources are useful because they can summarize the topic for the student, although they are not primary sources recounting original research. 

Research is primarily published in journals. Use the chemistry and science databases to search for journal articles.

CHEM 300/405 Presentations

The Chemistry Seminar requires students to give 2-3 presentations that progressively present information relevant to a selected research study. Typically, students choose a chemistry or physics research article and then present to the audience the information necessary to help them understand the study and its findings. 

This assignment provides experience in doing background research such as would be required to perform a literature review. It also provides experience doing professional presentations, which require the speaker to decide what the audience needs to know to understand the science used in the research project, what the audience needs to know to understand why the research project is important, and what information can be shared within the allotted presentation time. In addition, the audience practices skills in understanding, questioning, critiquing, and reviewing the presented scientific information. 

The skills learned in this assignment can be applied to other situations. Research skills for a presentation can be applied when researching a literature review for a paper or poster. Effectively communicating what one is researching and why it is important is essential to getting funding and generating interest in your research topic as well as educating other scientists and the public. Learning how to assess your audience in order to communicate what you wish them to learn is very useful in many situations, such as presenting at scientific conferences or teaching university classes. 

Science Presentations

The American Chemical Society (ACS) offers webinars on a variety of topics. Some require ACS membership to view. Students may join at a reduced rate in order to evaluate the organization's membership benefits.

Below are some webinars related to effective presentations and communication. But don't hesitate to explore other ACS Webinars.


Chemistry Reference Books and Textbooks

Basic topics in chemistry tend to be covered in textbooks and reference sources, like encyclopedias, handbooks, and such. Use the index of print resources to find the multiple pages which may cover your topic.

Science textbooks tend to have humdrum titles like "Chemistry", "Radiochemistry", and so on. Use the library catalog to find them by searching the Library Catalog

One of the chemistry librarian's favorite sources for undergraduates is the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. IF your topic is in Kirk-Othmer, then it may receive very thorough coverage. If not, I am sorry. You will need to look elsewhere. Kirk-Othmer is a chemical engineering resource so it will favor the applications of chemistry concepts.

Chemistry Databases

The databases would be used to search for journal articles, which is where current research is published in the sciences. Chemistry and physics articles are much shorter than books and, therefore, tend to cover very specific, detailed information in their few pages. Journal articles are used when chemists wish to get more detailed information about research. 

However, you can find some broad, general information in the articles within the chemistry databases. Review articles provide an overview of a topic. And research articles typically begin with background information which may provide a nice, basic summary of a topic.In addition, some of the chemistry databases include records from key reference sources which may include what you are looking for. These "key reference sources" may have started out as book series but migrated to become online resources when technology made that possible.

Some students mention "The Library Database" when referring to the search box on the ISU Library homepage. But there is no single "Library Database."  That search box on the ISU Library homepage uses a "discovery service" search that searches about 150 different library databases simultaneously as well as the library website, the catalog, and the dissertation repository. But it does not search all of the approximately 280 databases to which the ISU Library subscribes. 

Review Articles

If you want general information on a topic, a review article can be useful. These are articles which provide an overview of a topic. You can search the  science and chemistry databases for review articles. Try searching for the word "review" or "overview" in the title. Many review articles are titled "A review of..." or "An overview of..." Some databases will helpfully assign "review" as a Subject for a publication type and allow you to search by that Subject.

Some journals specialize in review articles. A few are listed below.

Reviewing Another's Work

Asking a Question


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Chemistry Education Journals

For basic topics, you may also try searching in the Journal of Chemical Education or other chemical education journal articles. Education articles may discuss the background of a  topic as they discuss a method to teach the topic.

Nobel Prize WInners

Research exploring some basic chemistry concepts won some lucky chemists the Nobel Prize many, many years ago. These same basic chemistry concepts may be taught to undergraduates. You can find out if any Nobel Prize was associated with your topic. You can use the information in the winner's biography or their acceptance speech to locate the publications that won them the award.  You may search using the winner's name to find their publications.

You may add additional search words to the Google Search box below in order to search the Nobel Prize website. The use of  site:  is an advanced Google trick to search only within a specific website.

Google Web Search