Macmillan Learning Author Spotlight: Loretta Jones

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“When I was a student,” said Dr. Loretta Jones, “during all four years of my undergraduate studies, there was only one female professor–and she was an adjunct professor.” Much has changed since Dr. Jones was a student, and she has played a significant role in that. Dr. Jones was one of the first female authors of a chemistry textbook, and is co-author of the newest edition of Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight

Macmillan Learning recognizes that the success of our textbooks and courseware is in large part due to our outstanding authors, many of whom are pioneers and trailblazers in their fields. Our authors have remarkable careers that extend beyond higher education. They are excellent and innovative teachers, and they are impeccable writers and storytellers. 

For this year’s Women’s History Month, Macmillan Learning is excited to feature Dr. Jones as part of its Author Spotlight series. 

 

Dr. Loretta Jones, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of Northern ColoradoDr. Loretta Jones, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, University of Northern ColoradoDr. Jones was always interested in science. As a young girl, she was highly curious; she wanted to know how flowers grow and why birds could fly. In middle school, she read a book about atoms and was introduced to the periodic table. “I remember being completely stunned by the incredible harmony underlying everything,” she recalled. 

Her early love for the natural sciences convinced Dr. Jones that she wanted to become a physicist. “At the time, when I thought of pursuing a career in chemistry,” she said, “I thought all I would be doing was washing test tubes.” Dr. Jones’’s high school chemistry teacher completely changed her perspective. “My teacher hadn’t taught in a while and tried some new things in the classroom, so we performed some crazy experiments,” she said. “I found it all really interesting–and entertaining!” 

At the time, Dr. Jones considered majoring in biology to explore further the natural world. However, because she wanted to be able to support herself and because her love for chemistry had grown, she decided to major in it when she enrolled at Loyola University. 

After graduating from Loyola University, Dr. Jones continued her studies at the University of Chicago. It hadn’t crossed her mind to consider teaching as a career until she read the original writings of Italian physician Maria Montessori. “They were so inspiring,” Dr. Jones said. “Montessori wrote about designing an environment in which a child learns best, and I thought to myself ‘We should be doing something similar when teaching chemistry!’” Dr. Jones was also motivated to teach because of conversations she had with many people in her life who said to her things like “Why would you want to study chemistry? I failed chemistry; it’s so hard!” Dr. Jones wanted to prove that learning chemistry–albeit challenging–could be fun and rewarding.

Before completing her graduate studies, Dr. Jones gained work experience at Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy science and engineering research center. “It was an interesting place to work,” Dr. Jones recalled. “We were doing a lot of work with coolants in breeder reactors, a type of nuclear reactor that uses large amounts of neutron energy. Dr. Jones then transitioned to work for her husband’s company as secretary and treasurer before returning to school to finish her graduate degree and carve out her own career path. 

“My advisor at the University of Chicago told me about a program called Doctorate of Arts in Chemistry at the University of Illinois, a new program designed for people with specific interest in teaching chemistry,” Dr. Jones said. It was the early days of computing when Dr. Jones completed her graduate studies at the University of Illinois and it was difficult to program animations. “The university had computers that performed vector graphics to make interesting animations, something not available even in Hollywood, so Hollywood had to come to the university,” she said. “I was in the room when they were working on animations for the original Star Wars movies–scenes for getting into the Death Star and animations for its flight path.” 

Her exposure to early computing encouraged Dr. Jones to think further about how to improve the teaching of chemistry. “Lectures are boring,” she said. “I loved anything that brought pictures of atoms and molecules to the minds of students. They could solve all of the equations, but they didn’t really understand what that meant in terms of atoms and molecules, and that’s where all the excitement takes place.” 

After completing her Ph.D. and D.A. at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Jones had a great opportunity to teach using multimedia at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. There she met Stan Smith, an organic chemist who was really pushing the envelope of what could be done with a computer in his classroom teaching. “I was amazed by his lessons and by his grasp of how his students thought,” Dr. Jones said. She and Dr. Smith started working together to incorporate interactive, multimedia video in their teaching. “This was the early days,” Dr. Jones said. “We needed to have a computer with the lesson on it and a TV set hooked to a videotape player. The computer would ask students a question–something along the lines of which two chemicals they wanted to mix together–and then they would see a video of that reaction occurring.” 

With quickly advancing technology, Dr. Jones and her colleagues were then able to lessen the number of devices needed for their multimedia teaching. “IBM visited our campus with their newly developed InfoWindow, which could play the video on the same screen as the computer,” Dr. Jones said. “We received a few of their computers, which also had touchscreens, so students could more easily choose the chemicals they wanted to mix.” IBM also asked Dr. Jones to become a consulting scholar, full-time for one year and part-time for another five years. She was part of a class of twelve that eventually grew to 22, who visited campuses to talk to faculty members about using technology in their teaching. 

While serving as a consulting scholar for IBM, Dr. Jones presented her multimedia lessons at conferences, including EduCom where she had a brief encounter with Steve Jobs. “Jobs had recently left Apple and started his company, NeXT Computer,” Dr. Jones said, “which was a classy looking product, but only displayed in black and white.” IBM asked Dr. Jones if they could invite Jobs over to see her presentation of using multimedia in her chemistry lessons. They brought him over, and Dr. Jones went through her lesson, demonstrating how students could use the computer interactively. At the end of her lesson demonstration, she expected Jobs to ask a question about the video or the lesson. “Instead,” she recalled, “he just stood there silently the whole time and at the very end said only: ‘Tell me about this touch screen.’” 

The touchscreen computer may have been the biggest takeaway for Steve Jobs, but it’s Dr. Jones’s innovative lessons that had the greatest impact on her students. “Teaching was always such a priority for me,” she said. “So much so that my main research area was the teaching of chemistry.” When a position opened up at the University of Northern Colorado, Dr. Jones applied and moved to Colorado once she got the job. It was the perfect opportunity for someone with that area of interest. 

Specializing in teaching and pedagogy also uniquely positioned Dr. Jones as an ideal candidate to author a chemistry textbook. She was first approached by an editor from W. H. Freeman in 1995 with the request to edit a few chapters from the second edition of Chemistry: Molecules, Matter, and Change. “It felt like they were holding auditions,” Dr. Jones joked. “I thought to myself: ‘There’s no way I could possibly have time in my life for a textbook project.’” Nevertheless, the editor was persistent in her requests. She invited Dr. Jones to dinner and left her with the three chapters, which Dr. Jones remembers leaving lying untouched on her dining room table for nearly one month. 

“The editor gave me a call and told me that she needed something from me soon,” Dr. Jones said. “I realized that if I didn’t send her anything, I might never have the opportunity–and I could still say ‘no’.” Dr. Jones sent in edits for half of one chapter and will never forget her editor’s excitement. Dr. Jones was invited to New York, where she had her first working meeting with Peter Atkins, her future co-author and long-term colleague. 

More than 25 years later, Peter and Dr. Jones are still working together on another title, the eighth edition of Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight. Together with co-author Leroy Laverman, they’ve now grown their author team to five, bringing on both James Patterson and Kelley Young, who will be featured in a future Author Spotlight. “Kelley and James introduced some interesting new applications,” Dr. Jones said. “We’ve also completely revised how we deal with some of the bonding topics in this new edition.” Like the seventh edition, the eighth edition also has an improved structure, which features focuses and topics rather than chapters. 

Dr. Jones is now retired from teaching, but the textbook project continues to keep her busy. When she’s not writing, she loves to read and to hike. She moved to Michigan after she retired to be closer to her daughter. “There are so many great places to hike in Michigan,” Dr. Jones said, “and there are lakes everywhere.” 



Loretta L. Jones is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Northern Colorado. She taught general chemistry there for 16 years and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for 13 years. She earned a BS in honors chemistry from Loyola University, an MS in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry as well as a D.A. in chemical education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her physical chemistry research used electron paramagnetic resonance to investigate motion in liquids. Her chemical education research focuses on helping students to understand the molecular basis of chemistry through visualization. In 2001, she chaired the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education. In 2006 she chaired the Chemical Education Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS). She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the coauthor of award-winning multimedia courseware. In 2012 she received the ACS Award for Achievement in Research in the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry.