Curt Wittig

Paul A. Miller Chair in Letters, Arts and Sciences and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Email Office SSC 403 Office Phone (213) 740-7368
    • During the previous academic year one item stands out as particularly noteworthy. It is unique, insofar as I have never before attempted anything like it, so it will be presented here in some detail. Over the last half dozen years I have amassed a large collection of “class notes.” These are typed (single spaced, 11 pt font) with embedded figures (most in color, on average one per page). This material was organized well enough for classes. However, with literally thousands of equations you can imagine that numbering the equations could be a full time job by itself. Global organization was lacking. In total there were ~ 700 pages. The ensemble was too good to toss, but not organized well enough to distribute.
      To converge this material (lest entropy and time, in effect, cast it to the wind) required a monumental effort. A recent and relatively cohesive group of topics was defined. This material was arranged in logical order, a standard format and nomenclature was set, chapters were rewritten, new figures were made, and the thousands of equations were redone and numbered using a sensible scheme. The package came to 350 pages (8½ x 11). Now it gets interesting.
      The manuscript was put into a single PDF file and sent to a professional printer, who ran 120 bound copies (total cost ~ $4000). These were distributed (no charge) to students and faculty in physical chemistry here at USC (~ 30 copies), with the majority going to faculty at other universities (mainly in the U.S.) and some scientists in government labs. It can also be downloaded from my web site. Feedback was very positive – more so than expected. I have subsequently added another 300 pages (8½ x 11), again, carefully rewriting and organizing the material. This is now a lot of stuff. Were it put in a standard book (i.e. typically quite a bit smaller than 8 ½ x 11), the number of pages would go from 650 to ~ 900. So, what is the plan?
      Much of this material is advanced, and much of it is novel to chemical physics curricula in the U.S. I have talked with Cambridge University Press, only to be discouraged by their anti-intellectual on-size-fits-all attitude (no color figures, size limits, etc.), which is presumably driven by sales. What I am going to do is refine what I have – perhaps a small amount of material will be added but not much. Then refine it again and take care of copyright issues. It will then be printed and bound (this time higher quality) in two volumes. These copies will be distributed free of charge to roughly 250 scientists (~ 90% in universities). It will have a major impact, a paradigm shift so to speak. I would rather do this for the community than donate money to the university, as I know how universities operate with respect to such donations.
      The scientific community is sick and tired of the book publishing industry: outrageous prices, new editions every few years (rarely justified), restrictions that compromise the utility of the product, and so on. Big changes are in the wind, and my contribution will be ahead of the curve and set a standard. I estimate printing and binding costs for the next step at ~ $20,000. This cost will be borne by me (no government or university funds), as a goodwill gesture to the scientific community.
      Anyway, this is one of the things I did last year. It consumed an enormous amount of time, so my writing of research papers suffered. However, I think this project will likely have a marked impact on pedagogy in the physical chemistry.