Author Archives: Jessie Key

About Jessie Key

Jessie joined the VIU Faculty in the fall of 2012. He has previously taught Organic Chemistry as a sessional lecturer at UBC-Okanagan and was an instructor for Academic Upgrading and Chemical Technology at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Jessie’s main area of interest is Chemical Education including open educational resources and Chemical Biology; with a focus on fluorophore synthesis, labelling and bioassay development. Jessie teaches a range of courses including: first year (CHEM 140, 142), Organic Chemistry (CHEM 231 and 232), Integrated Organic and Inorganic Laboratory (CHEM 351), Emerging Topics and Professional Practice in Chemistry (CHEM 400), Macromolecular Chemistry of Biomolecules (CHEM 432) and Undergraduate Research Projects (CHEM 490 and 491). Jessie can be reached at Jessie.Key - at -

Summer 2020 Organic Chemistry Lab Video Series Links

Hi Everyone, it’s been a while… with all that is going on, I figured it was best to share out my organic chemistry lab resources in case anyone is in need. I have a new series of ‘virtual video labs’ which follow myself or our technician going through a few of our traditional face to face labs. I am working on some more resources to round out our hybrid lab approach, and I will try to update this blog when I can. Feel free to use this material, but please respect the creative commons licence:

Virtual Video Labs:

Separation of compounds by liquid-liquid extraction virtual lab:

Solvent Recycling by Distillation:

Solventless Aldol Reaction Virtual Lab:

Lab Technique and Theory videos:

Melting Point:

Filtering using the PIAB system:


Rotovap Theory and Use:

Lab Safety 2019:

Green Chemistry and Green Metrics:

NMR processing using ACD NMR Processor Software:

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals:

Preparing an NMR sample:

Liquid Liquid Extraction:

Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) Theory:

Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) demonstration:

Column Chromatography Theory:

Running a Flash Column:

Organic Chemistry Lab Calculations (percent recovery, percent yield, mass percent):

Performing a Distillation:

Distillation Theory:

IR Nujol Mull:

IR Thin Film:

IR KBr Method:

Processing an IR spectrum using the Omnic Software:

Gas Chromatography theory:

GC preparation and use:

One solvent recrystallization demonstration:

Recrystallization theory:

Chemistry Videos – 3 years later

It has been three years since my first chemistry video tutorials went live on our video repository – VIUtube. I figure it’s time that I summarize the success we have seen with these resources:

Monthly Video Blog Completion – Reflections on the Project

Well I am wrapping up the monthly video blog project after completing its goal: 1 year of monthly videos aimed at increasing chemical and scientific literacy. All videos provided citations to the literature sources of the material, and creative commons attribution to any images used within. The videos were targeted at a high school audience, and I tried to represent the broadness of chemistry with various topics :


1. The Chemical World (an introduction to Chemistry as a Science) (

2. The Chemistry of Fireworks (

3. The Chemistry of Smell (

4. The Chemistry of Antioxidants (

5. The Chemistry of Bioluminescence (

6. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (

7. 10 Moustached Chemists Who Changed the World (

8. The Chemistry of Lava Lamps (

9. The Chemistry of Vaccines (

10. The Chemistry Towards the Origin of Life (

11. Chemistry on Human Skin (

12. The Chemistry of Ocean Acidification (


As with all material I post on my blog, the videos are licensed under a creative commons licence, and anyone interested in using the videos may contact me for additional resources like the source embed codes. The videos are hosted on Vancouver Island University’s media repository ‘VIUtube’ and have been publicly available under my own channel “Key to Chemistry” and on this blog. Despite being located in a relatively low-traffic area of the internet (unlike YouTube), the videos have received approximately 2700 total views as of one day after posting the final video. I may decide to post them on YouTube, however, I initially did not want to post them there in part to avoid the commercialization of these videos (even if I am not making money off them, YouTube would) and also to avoid some of the nasty comments which were sure to be posted by some individuals.

Overall, I think the project was a great success. However, making these videos takes a great deal of time and effort! Any possible future videos will be posted as my schedule permits.


– Jessie Key, 12 June 2015


Open Education Resources for Chemistry

There are a lot of open education resources out there, but sometimes it is difficult to find decent quality ones at the post-secondary level for chemistry.  Here I will post links to some of the better places I have found for these resources, feel free to add some more that I may have missed in the comments.


UC Irvine Open Courseware (entire courses lecture videos available):

Merlot Chemistry Portal:

BC Campus Open Textbooks for Chemistry:

General chemistry virtual textbook (Stephen Lower, SFU):

Compound Interest (a blog which features creative commons licensed chemistry infographics etc.):

PhET online simulations: 

Itunes U has a wide variety of open education resources, including some for General and Organic Chemistry: 

Monthly Video Blog Progress Update

Hi Everyone,

Around 9 months ago I started to contribute monthly video blog posts, with the aim of showcasing interesting aspects of Chemistry, or highlighting the chemistry of phenomena from everyday life. I thought this would be a great way to increase scientific and chemical literacy, and the Chemical Institute of Canada  ( seemed to agree as they funded the purchase of my screen capture software (Camtasia Studio 8). It hasn’t always been easy finding the time to research and make these videos with a full teaching load, and service on several committees/councils at VIU, but I have produced 8 videos so far, one for every month except December 2014 (due to final exams and the holiday break).  To date the 8 videos have been viewed over 1300 times total, and one is incorporated into the open textbook: Introductory Chemistry – 1st Canadian Edition ( As a product of a smaller university, that has received no funding beyond the initial software purchase, no direct advertising, and is not seeking ad revenue by being listed on YouTube: I am counting this as a win.

Four more videos to go until the year-long project comes to completion!

– Jessie

Happy Birthday Open Textbook Project/My Adventures Adapting a Chemistry Textbook

This is probably a very long overdue blog post, but as I am currently procrastinating from/avoiding the giant pile of marking on my desk I thought I should put it out there in the blog-o-verse.


Today is the second birthday of the BC campus open textbook project (, and I have been involved with this project in a few different capacities. Avid readers of this blog may remember seeing a post about my experience reviewing an organic chemistry open textbook ( There I made some points about what a great thing open textbooks could be for students, and then subsequently complained of the quality of the open text I reviewed. Some issues with spelling/editing, diagram/figure quality and lack of instructor resources were among my main complaints. Naturally, while reviewing this text I was always thinking to myself “If I wrote the textbook, I would include this… or make sure my diagram had that…”


Earlier in 2014, the opportunity to adapt an introductory chemistry textbook into a general chemistry textbook (as part of the open textbook project) arose and I got the chance to put my thoughts into practice. At first I was a little overwhelmed at the scope of the project, and the short amount of time I was given to perform the adaptation. The introductory textbook was set at a relatively low level (the US liberal arts college “non-major” level, or perhaps an upgrading/basic education course).The reviews from other faculty across BC were accurate and detailed, pointing out many of the major deficiencies found in the original text. For this book  to be actually used by instructors in BC, I figured it needed two additional chapters written from scratch, a glossary, expansion of the appendix materials, almost all chemical structures in the organic chapter needed redrawing in proper bond-line format, and several chapter sections were needed in a couple other chapters. I also chose to add six of my existing video tutorials into the textbook, available for viewing directly in the electronic version or with a QR code link in the print copy.


After discussion with my BCcampus project manager Amanda, a schedule was set and I had myself a significant summer project. To accomplish these goals, I approached the problem in the following series of steps:


  1. For each chapter section/chapter I looked at 3-4 existing textbooks and identified what I thought were the common important concepts discussed.
  2. In Microsoft word I wrote up drafts of each chapter section, then pasted this into the PressBooks platform.
  3. Equations were typed out and put into PressBooks. This was the most problematic step! PressBooks uses a programming language known as LaTex to display mathematical equations, but I am no programmer. I ended up using a converter software to go from Microsoft word equations into LaTex, then imputing those into PressBooks with the help of Amanda. Let’s just say that the converter and PressBooks did not always play nice together, and both Amanda and I spent hours tweaking bits of code here and there.


  1. Figures and diagrams were either generated by myself using various softwares (from Microsoft paint, to ChemDraw Pro 13.0) or I scoured through creative commons image repositories ( for decent images I could use.


  1. I proofread my chapter sections, and they were then sent away for professional editing. Several weeks later I would receive an email from the editor, via the project manager, noting occasional mistakes and asking me to double check or correct them. As with most publications, it seemed formatting (particularly with the equations) was the most common mistake.


The finished product is now available for adoption, and can be found here ( I still feel there is room for improvement in many of the chapters which were untouched, and also additional resources like more end of chapter questions/a testbank, and an instructors powerpoint slide series would greatly help adoption of this resource. However, I feel I did the best I could to bring this text up to the level of a first year university general chemistry course with the time and resources available.


I am currently working with the BCcampus team as a Faculty Fellow (, to advise, promote and research open textbooks and open resources. I was really impressed with the rest of the Faculty Fellows, and look forward to working with them over the next year.

ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator for iPad

The kind folks at Black Rhino have supplied me with a copy of ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator for the iPad ( It is currently listed for $3.99 CAD. It has been evaluated on an iPad mini.


First Impressions:

The ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator app is exactly as the name advertises, an app to calculate typical chemistry values.



All undergraduate chemistry courses require that some fundamental calculations are performed, both in the lecture and lab. Most calculations are fairly straight forward, as long as students possess the basic skills of unit conversion (dimensional analysis).


The App:

The opening screen features a large periodic table and number keypad. Simply choose the elements you want and punch in how many, then hit the orange checkmark button!

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It will list the molecular weight on the main page, but clicking on the information button ( a lowercase “i” in a circle),  it shows things such as the empirical formula, average mass,  monoisotopic mass,  percent composition (by mass) and converts between grams and moles. There is also a concentration calculator in the top right corner.

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All units in the mass-mole conversion/concentration calculators can be changed to the most common SI prefixes from nano to giga.

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A mass distribution plot is also present, but is disappointing as it does not have axis titles/values. However, a peak table is given by clicking the arrow at the bottom right corner.

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Back in the main screen, clicking on the icon that looks like two pieces of paper brings up a menu featuring the history of your previous searches, and surprisingly large lists of commonly used organic groups, ions, ligands.

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Clicking the right arrow button opens up a menu of programmable buttons, which would be handy for commonly used moieties.


A help menu is available and is well written.

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Final Impressions:

Overall, this app can quickly determine molecular weight and perform some commonly used conversions, and has a surprisingly large amount of groups, ions and ligands programmed in. However, the conversions it can perform could be done fairly quickly by a relatively competent grade 11 student with a calculator, pen and paper.



The author received a copy of the software, but received no other compensation.

Odyssey Atomic Orbitals – Chemistry App Review

The kind folks at Wavefunction Inc. have supplied me with their full Odyssey general chemistry app suite and I will be reviewing each of these apps throughout the remainder of 2014.


This is the fourth of these reviews, and I will be discussing the Atomic Orbitals app which is available for purchase in the app store for $3.99 CAD (



At VIU in our CHEM 140 class, and most other General Chemistry courses elsewhere, atomic orbitals are examined and explained in terms of the quantum theory. The topic of atomic orbitals and hybridization can be very visual, and yet also abstract with a lot of theory. An app that can help student understanding in this tricky topic would be a great benefit in the CHEM 140 course.

The App:

The interface is very similar to the other Odyssey apps previously reviewed. There is a portion where the orbitals are featured for manipulation and a portion which lists examples and has tabs for a glossary, some additional comments, and questions.  As well, some guidelines towards how students should approach using the app are given in the OBSERVE! tab.

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The shapes of the orbitals can be clearly observed by clicking on each of the orbitals. Pinch-to-zoom and swiping to rotate gives a full three-dimensional perspective on the orbitals.

Under the Shell Structure of the Atom, the shell number can be chosen, showing the impact of the principal quantum number on the size of the atoms (compare the picture below at n=5, to that above at n=3).

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By selecting any of the 22 main group Chemical Elements provided, a list detailing the number of electrons, number of occupied orbitals, electron pairs/unpaired electrons, electron configuration (with shorthand) and magnetism appears, as well as buttons for each orbital of the atom.

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The glossary has a list of helpful definitions, and multiple choice questions are available under the question section.

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Final Impressions:

I think this is a really helpful app to get across the 3-D nature of the atomic orbitals beyond the scope of the 2-D textbook, and emphasize certain aspects of the quantum theory behind orbitals. For instance, I plan to use this app to show the effect changing the principal quantum number has on the orbital size during my lecture this fall. My main critique is that hybridized orbitals are not included, which are often a trickier subject for students. Hybrid orbitals are also taught in this type of General Chemistry course following atomic orbitals.

ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator for iPhone – Chemistry App Review

I have downloaded the app ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator by Black Rhino for the iPhone ( while it was briefly free in the appstore. It is currently listed for $3.99 CAD. It has been evaluated on an iPad mini.


First Impressions:

The ChemTrix Chemistry Calculator iphone app is exactly as the name advertises, an app to calculate typical chemistry values.



All undergraduate chemistry courses require that some fundamental calculations are performed, both in the lecture and lab. Most calculations are fairly straight forward, as long as students possess the basic skills of unit conversion (dimensional analysis).


The App:

It can calculate things like molecular weight, monoisotopic weight, percent composition (by mass) and convert between grams and moles. It is fairly intuitive and easy to use, like a normal calculator, just punch in the number of each element in the molecule and hit enter to view the molecular weight and percent composition.
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At first it appears that you can only choose from some of the more common elements (C, H, N, O, P, S, Cl), but a swipe from right to left gives a complete alphabetical list. As well, it lists a surprisingly large number of commonly used organic groups, ions, ligands and the history of your previous calculations. Embarrassingly, this swipe feature eluded me at first! When in doubt, carefully consult the help menu or contact the Black Rhino support team, who were very quick to respond to my query. I have also been informed that if  ChemTrix is run on a 4″ iOS device,  a row of four programmable buttons will also be available (this review was performed on an iPad mini).

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Tap on the formula again and it opens up the mass/moles/molar mass converter where you can enter a mass or number of moles to convert between the two. There is also a concentration calculator, allowing you to determine the concentration.


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The units can be changed between 4 SI prefix options (eg. mol, mmol, µmol and nmol).

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However, this app is fairly limited, as you can only choose 7 of the more common elements (C, H, N, O, P, S, Cl), which may work for many simple organic molecules, but that is about it. You can select certain R-groups (like methyl, ethyl, phenyl etc.)


I was disappointed in the “Mass Distribution” plot, as there are no axis present. For example, I put in the simple molecule C2H3Cl: Chlorine has two common isotopes 35C and 37C, in a roughly 3:1 ratio. Therefore a signal should be present at approximately 62 and at 64, in a 3:1 ratio. This is not clearly shown in the spectrum provided below, but can be found by clicking upon it to pull up a peak intensities menu.

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A help menu is available and is well written.

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Final Impressions:

Overall, this app can quickly determine molecular weight and perform some conversions, and has a surprisingly large amount of groups, ions and ligands programmed in. However, the conversions it can perform could be done fairly quickly by a relatively competent grade 11 student with a calculator, pen and paper. There is an iPad version of ChemTrix available, which appears to have expanded functionality, but I know many of my students use their iPhones (as a calculator particularly for quick calculations). I will be reviewing the iPad version in the near future.



The author downloaded the software from the app store while it was briefly free, and received no other compensation.