Department of Chemistry

Joel Karty

Joel KartyProfessor of Chemistry
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Areas of Expertise

Most students dread the thought of organic chemistry; it has been taught the same way for more than 50 years and often without student success. As a result, Joel Karty decided to take a different approach to teaching the yearlong course in his textbook, "Organic Chemistry: Principles and Mechanisms." Released in January 2014, the textbook is the culmination of 10 years of work and the only one of its kind currently on the market. In the past, organic chemistry lessons were organized according to the kinds of features that molecules possess in their structure, meaning students had to memorize hundreds of reactions. Karty shifted the emphasis from a molecule’s appearance to how the molecule behaves and organized his textbook to help students better understand what happens when molecules undergo a reaction. He has used a version of the textbook’s manuscript for several years, tweaking it based on the approach that worked best to help students master the subject.

Karty also pursues research about resonance and inductive effects in fundamental chemical systems, two types of factors that are intrinsic to molecules, which dictate how molecules behave and react. Spotting the existence of these factors in a molecule is relatively straightforward, but determining their importance quantitatively can be challenging, especially when the two factors are present simultaneously. Along with students, Karty carries out a computational method to quantify the importance of resonance and inductive effects in a variety of chemical systems. They employ the Gaussian suite of software programs to run quantum theoretical calculations, the results of which they analyze to extract contributions by the two effects. Karty focuses on fundamental questions in chemistry, such as why sulfuric acid is so acidic and whether Y-aromaticity really exists.

Additionally, Karty explains the mechanism of pattern formation in Liesegang reactions, a class of reactions in which spatial patterns of the product are formed simply by adding one of the reactants to the other. If the reaction is carried out in a test tube, the product is formed in horizontal layers with gaps in-between. If the reaction is carried out in a Petrie dish, the product is formed in concentric rings instead. Liesegang reactions are important for a variety of reasons, including being implicated in the formation of human gall stones, as well as cysts and tumors. These reactions have been heavily studied for over a century, but to this day no one knows precisely how the patterns emerge. Along with students, Karty studies Liesegang reactions, with the aim being to elucidate what, exactly, is going on behind the scenes in its mechanism. The primary experimental technique we use is called dynamic light scattering, but we have used other types techniques as well, including ultraviolet-visible spectrometry.


Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University
B.S. in Chemistry from University of Puget Sound

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