Recent Teaching

CHEM 106: Principles of Chemistry

Principles of Chemistry offers preparation in the physical science, chemistry, and applied mathematics to ensure student success in the General Chemistry series of classes.

CHEM 120 & 121: General Chemistry I & II

The combination of laboratory and lecture in this course prepares science majors for their future courses by teaching them the foundations of chemistry.
Prof. Talaga's sections of General Chemistry are run as a flipped classroom where students watch previously recorded lectures at home and then engage in guided problem solving practice during scheduled class time.

CHEM 544: Chemical Thermodynamics & Electrochemistry

The first half of this class is a condensed and abridged version of CHEM 540 and takes a probability-based approach to the two laws of thermodynamics to understand the molecular basis of the properties of matter including solubility, surface tension, phase separation, and elasticity with applications to pure substances, mixed phases, solutions, and polymers. The second half of the class covers fundamentals of electrochemistry including: electrode processes, electrode potentials, thermodynamics of cells, kinetics of electrode reactions, mass transfer by migration and diffusion, and discussion of several experimental approaches to electrochemical measurements. 

CHEM 540: Chemical Thermodynamics

We take a probability-based approach to the two laws of thermodynamics to understand the molecular basis of the properties of matter including solubility, surface tension, phase separation, elasticity, ligand binding curves, cooperativity, protein folding, and more.

CHEM 100: Introduction to Chemistry

This Gen. Ed. lab science course is designed to introduce non-science majors to the fundamentals of chemistry and how it impacts our world.

CHEM 347: Biophysical Chemistry

This second semester of physical chemistry is intended to teach biochemistry majors aspect of physical chemistry applicable to biological systems. 

Teaching Philosophy:

Student-Oriented Learning and Teaching in the Lecture Hall: I prepare typeset lecture notes for all lectures and provides these lecture notes online for the class prior to the beginning of the lecture. I typically omit portions or entire solutions to some in-class examples to provide opportunity for students to engage actively with the solution of the problems. There is a trade-off in providing lecture notes ahead of time that relates to the different modes that students use to learn during lecture. Many students find that the multi-tasking of making sense of the lecture and formatting their own notes means that they do neither well. For these students having the notes available to fill in during the lecture enhances their ability to focus on the lecture rather than on taking detailed notes. For other students, their primary mode of learning is in transcribing notes from the lecture. If they rely entirely on the pre-written notes, their learning can suffer. I try to address this issue with the students during the first lecture of the course.

I typically begin a lecture with an overview of what is to be covered in that segment of the class and how that material intersects with material that has already been covered. I will introduce a concept and its relevance, then define key jargon before moving on to discussing how the concept is applied. In smaller classes, I use a “cold-call” technique based on the computerized random selection of a student. For classes of all sizes, there are multiple choice questions that are posed to the class to probe comprehension. I poll the class having them vote for the answer they believe is true and provide instant feedback and discussion of the answers.

Grading Philosophy: I do not grade on a "curve" in any traditional sense. That is, the number of A, B, etc. grades is not determined by any statistical ideas about what fraction of the students should be assigned a given grade. For small classes in particular — i.e. <200 students — statistics are of limited reliability. For a given assignment I assign about 2/3 of the credit to "easy" material and 1/3 to "hard" material. To assign overall grade, I create 4 virtual students (A/B, B/C, C/D, D/F) and assign the "border" grades to each of them for every assignment. For example, for the hypothetical 2/3:1/3 split, a C/D cutoff would be about 50% correspond to a student who was able to complete most of the "easy" material, but none of the "hard" material. Likewise the "B/C" cutoff would typically be around 65% corresponding to near-mastery of the easy material and limited mastery of the "hard" material. The "A/B" cutoff would be around 80-85% corresponding to mastery of the "easy" material and partial mastery of the "hard" material. When all the assignments are entered and weighted according to the syllabus The final weighted grade is sorted and the virtual students mark the boundaries between the grades. Plus/minus grades are assigned below/above the boundaries. Students right at the boundary are often "bumped up" if the trend over the course has been upward and the student has shown later mastery of concepts not understood at the beginning of the semester.

Undergraduate Research: Undergraduates benefit greatly from early involvement in meaningful research. 

Meaningful, in this context, is that the outcome of the research is unknown beforehand and that the result will influence scientific understanding of the problem. The student must realize from the beginning of the project that not only is the answer unknown, but that obtaining the answer as well as determining the validity of the answer is his or her responsibility. Undergraduate research is the one of the best ways for chemistry to become relevant to the student. Because of that, it is important to design research programs with the experience level of undergraduates in mind. There are plenty of interesting, unsolved problems that undergraduates can take primary role in solving. Participation in undergraduate research gives the student independence and confidence vital to success.

I have supervised 8 undergraduate students in independent research projects (Chemistry 199, 499) one Master’s student (Graduate Assistant) since arriving at Montclair. I supervised dozens of undergraduates in my research lab during my years at Rutgers. Undergraduates at MSU have successfully prepared quartz substrates that have been modified to have the same hydrophobicity as Teflon (PTFE). Using deep-UV circular dichroism they have also successfully used these substrates to measure the secondary structural changes occurring in α-synuclein when it associates with the hydrophobic surface.