How do experts articulate the intrinsic value of chemistry?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Research shows that most people lack an emotional connection to chemistry. In schools, pupils feel that the value of chemistry is never clear, or only becomes clear at the end of their education. Beyond schools, chemistry is an under-represented science in educational settings like museums and science centres. Instilling a sense of the intrinsic value of chemistry is a primary aim of the school curriculum. However, research offers little insight into the content of intrinsic value: what it is people find valuable about the experience of learning and doing chemistry. This study provides an articulation of the intrinsic value of chemistry by analysing expert accounts of chemistry’s value. Intrinsic value is conceptualised using Alasdair MacIntyre’s idea of internal goods: valued qualities which are inherent to the practice of chemistry. Introductory chemistry textbooks were analysed to understand how the value of chemistry is presented to learners. Expert interviews with chemists were conducted to elicit personally valued experiences of chemistry and reflections on what was valued in these experiences. Textbook and interview data were coded and analysed inductively to identify recurring themes.
Textbook accounts primarily emphasise the value of consuming chemical technologies (the everyday benefits of synthetic materials and processes) which does not depend on learning or doing chemistry. In contrast, interviews with chemists emphasised the intrinsic value of learning and doing chemistry. This enabled the identification of recurring valued aspects of chemical experiences and knowledge, for example, providing insight into what chemists value about working practically with chemical substances.
Together, these valued aspects of chemical experiences and knowledge offer a framework and rich description for the intrinsic value of learning and doing chemistry, which has not previously been articulated. This framework can be used to inform the practice of chemistry education across formal and informal contexts, and provides a point of comparison for other science subjects.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlan Cribb (Supervisor), Justin Dillon (Supervisor), Anne Bowker (Supervisor), David Lathbury (Supervisor), Louise Archer (Supervisor), Christopher Winch (Supervisor) & Sharon Gewirtz (Supervisor)

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