PERSONAL: Female. Education: Reed College, B.A., 1981; University of California at Santa Barbara, M.A., 1985, Ph.D., 1987.
CAREER: Educator and writer. Aiken Preparatory School, Aiken, SC, physics and calculus instructor, 2001–; University of South Carolina at Aiken, adjunct professor of chemistry. Worked for Westinghouse Savannah River; taught chemistry at California State University at Los Angeles and Augusta State University.
AWARDS, HONORS: Louis Bell Research Award, Augusta State University.
(With Harold Goldwhite) Creations of Fire: Chemistry's Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks: The Spirited History of Physical Chemistry, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2002.
(With Monty L. Fetterolf) The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Things, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Cathy Cobb teaches calculus, chemistry, and physics and has authored or coauthored several books about chemistry. In her book Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks: The Spirited History of Physical Chemistry Cobb recounts the historical progress of chemistry from the realm of magic practiced by alchemists to an established science based on mathematics. Cobb takes readers back to the days of ancient Greece and a look at the possible foundations of the discipline. She also profiles the pioneers of chemistry who based their studies on mathematics and laid the foundation for modern chemistry. In her book Cobb reveals many of the sacrifices and obstacles early maverick chemists faced, including accusations of being evil magicians who should be burned at the stake and laboratory accidents that nearly cost some of them their lives. The author also discusses the modern study of chemistry and such scientific efforts as rational drug design and the emerging field of nanotechnology.
Mary Jo Nye, writing in the American Scientist, noted that "Cobb's style is lively and swashbuckling," but Nye found Cobb's "emphasis on the history of physical chemistry as a collection of renegade and heroic episodes" and her "failure to define physical chemistry effectively" to be "disconcerting." As a result, she dubbed the book "an inspirational history for students of science, not a definitive history for the record." Isis contributor Seymour S. Cohen noted Cobb's failure to include what he considered some important contributors to the field, such as Thomas Hobbes and others. He also wrote that Cobb's decision not to include the math of chemistry and "chemical shorthand," perhaps done to retain the attention of some readers, "may have been mistakes" since many readers are familiar with the basic math involved in the field. Nevertheless, Cohen called Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks "a successful introductory history of science that can help to restore enthusiasm for and youthful interest in the scientific life." Bryce Christensen, writing in Booklist, noted that the book "will pleasantly surprise readers whose previous experience with chemistry has … [been] a forced march through dreary formulas to learn that many of the makers of those formulas lived lives of wild unpredictability and fearless defiance." In a review in the Skeptical Inquirer, Kendrick Frazier and Benjamin Radford commented the author's "humanistic, historical approach results in a lively, readable account."
Cobb collaborated with Monty L. Fetterolf to write The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Things. The book is an introduction to chemistry and covers many of the field's various branches, including biochemistry and forensic chemistry. It includes many real-world examples of chemistry at work, from fall foliage to computers. The authors also provide hands-on demonstrations in each chapter so that readers can conduct their own laboratory experiments, often using items easily found in most households. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "A lightning tour of the field for the uninitiated" and added, "What the work lacks in depth is made up for in breadth." The reviewer also noted the authors "avoid oversimplifying the chemistry" and indicated that readers "will at least have a better understanding of the world around them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, July-August, 2003, Mary Jo Nye, review of Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks: The Spirited History of Physical Chemistry, p. 371.
Booklist, July, 2002, Bryce Christensen, review of Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks, p. 1805.
Isis, March, 2004, Seymour S. Cohen, review of Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks, p. 103.
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 2004, review of The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Things, p. 44.
Science News, January 11, 2003, review of Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks, p. 31.
Skeptical Inquirer, March-April, 2003, Kendrick Frazier and Benjamin Radford, review of Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks, p. 61.
Aiken Preparatory School Web site, http://www.aikenprep.com/ (March 24, 2005), "Cathy Cobb."