2.6: Spreadsheets and Computational Software
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Analytical chemistry is a quantitative discipline. Whether you are completing a statistical analysis, trying to optimize experimental conditions, or exploring how a change in pH affects a compound’s solubility, the ability to work with complex mathematical equations is essential. Spreadsheets, such as Microsoft Excel are an important tool for analyzing your data and for preparing graphs of your results. Scattered throughout this textbook you will find instructions for using spreadsheets.
If you do not have access to Microsoft Excel or another commercial spreadsheet package, you might considering using Calc, a freely available open-source spreadsheet that is part of the OpenOffice.org software package at www.openoffice.org, or Google Sheets.
Although spreadsheets are useful, they are not always well suited for working with scientific data. If you plan to pursue a career in chemistry, you may wish to familiarize yourself with a more sophisticated computational software package, such as the freely available open-source program that goes by the name R, or commercial programs such as Mathematica or Matlab. You will find instructions for using R scattered throughout this textbook.
You can download the current version of R from www.r-project.org. Click on the link for Download: CRAN and find a local mirror site. Click on the link for the mirror site and then use the link for Linux, MacOS X, or Windows under the heading “Download and Install R.”
Despite the power of spreadsheets and computational programs, don’t forget that the most important software is behind your eyes and between your ears. The ability to think intuitively about chemistry is a critically important skill. In many cases you will find that it is possible to determine if an analytical method is feasible or to approximate the optimum conditions for an analytical method without resorting to complex calculations. Why spend time developing a complex spreadsheet or writing software code when a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate will do the trick? Once you know the general solution to your problem, you can use a spreadsheet or a computational program to work out the specifics. Throughout this textbook we will introduce tools to help develop your ability to think intuitively.
For an interesting take on the importance of intuitive thinking, see Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone (Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2012).