When atoms want

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Chemistry students and teachers often explain the chemical reactivity of atoms, molecules, and chemical substances in terms of purposes or needs (e.g., atoms want or need to gain, lose, or share electrons in order to become more stable). These teleological explanations seem to have pedagogical value as they help students understand and use abstract chemical models. They may, however, become a roadblock in developing mechanistic understandings of the structure and properties of chemical systems. I explore the explanatory preferences of college students with different levels of training in chemistry to determine the extent to which they prefer teleological explanations over causal explanations. Major results revealed a strong preference at all the targeted educational levels for explanations that invoke intentionality as a driver for chemical reactivity. I discuss the educational implications of these findings and invite chemistry educators to reflect on these issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1419-1424
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 12 2013


  • Analogies/Transfer
  • Chemical Education Research
  • Curriculum
  • General Public

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Education


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