September 4, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – For Illinois Wesleyan University’s James E. House, writing textbooks is more than sharing information, it is the chance to teach students across the nation and around the world. “Last year, I taught at several universities, and the students have never heard my voice,” said House, speaking of chemistry textbooks. His latest book, Inorganic Chemistry (Academic Press), was published in August and is slated to be used by universities in the spring.
Inorganic Chemistry is House’s fourth textbook in seven years. A second edition of his Principles of Chemical Kinetics (Academic Press) came out last summer, another second edition, Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics (Academic Press), was published in 2005, and Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry (Brooks Cole) was released in 2001. “People ask me why I am writing these books and I tell them that I guess it’s because I can,” said House, who has been teaching chemistry for more than 40 years, and joined the Illinois Wesleyan Chemistry Department as an adjunct faculty member in 1997. “I’ve seen a lot of textbooks through my years, and I thought maybe it was time to give my views on some topics.”
House admits there are many chemistry books from which professors can choose. “The content of many chemistry textbooks reflects standards put in place by the American Chemical Society,” said House. “But when it comes to textbooks, there is a lot of flexibility in the choice of topics and how they are arranged.” His newest book includes some unusual topics, such as a chapter on dynamic processes in solids. “That’s coming from my interest in kinetics. I don’t know of any other inorganic textbook containing a chapter on that area,” he said.
Material for his books come directly from his work in the classroom and as a kinetics consultant. As a consultant, House has helped to model reactions important in the sweetener industries. “I developed the kinetic model that made it possible to dry dextrose sweetener to the right composition to keep pre-sweetened Kool-Aid from clumping in the package,” he said. “It sounds like an odd solid state process, but it’s important for the industry,” said House.
A love of chemistry has gripped House since his days of learning in a one-room schoolhouse near Benton, Ill. “We didn’t have much of a library, only one bookshelf. But in third or fourth grade I discovered an encyclopedia with graphics showing molecular structures, and I was amazed,” said House.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University, House attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which he calls a premier institution in inorganic chemistry during the 1960s. “I did my Ph.D. work under John C. Bailar, who is sometimes considered to be the father of modern inorganic chemistry in this country,” said House. “He was a superb mentor in many areas.” House taught at the Western Kentucky University before joining the faculty of Illinois State University, where he stayed for more than 30 years until his retirement in 1997. He came to Illinois Wesleyan after retiring. He teaches at the University along with his wife, Kathy House, a visiting assistant professor of chemistry. The couple collaborated on the textbook, Descriptive Organic Chemistry. “It’s difficult to work with anyone on a book, but that was one of the easiest collaborations I’ve ever had,” said House.
Chemistry is not the only area where House is a prolific writer. He has written four books on the shooting sports, including a comprehensive work on the American air rifle. He contributes to several Web sites and reviews new products for companies. He has written nearly 150 articles on the sport. “Before I retired, I wrote approximately 150 articles on chemistry. Since I retired, I have written about that many on outdoor activities and the shooting sports,” he said.
House remains active with students, continuing his tradition of hosting discussion groups with Illinois Wesleyan students on topics that include many aspects of science. “We have discussed Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Verne was one of the originators of science fiction and very knowledgeable about several areas of science,” he said. “In the book, Verne writes, ‘So is man's heart. The desire to perform a work which will endure, which will survive him is the origin of his superiority over all other creatures here below.’ That is what it is to write a textbook,” he said.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960