Gary Kolks

Associate Professor

Chemistry & Biochemistry

If a man could ascend to heaven and get a clear view of the natural order of the universe and the beauty of the heavenly bodies, that wonderful spectacle would give him small pleasure, though nothing could be conceived more delightful if he had but someone to tell what he had seen.
                                                                                   Archytas of Tarentum

I am very lucky to have a job which allows me to spend as much time as I want reading and thinking about chemistry. My goal, which I pursue in my general chemistry and inorganic chemistry courses, is to help my students understand chemistry so that they can get as much pleasure out of it as I do.

Chemistry is the most wonderful, but also the most difficult, science to learn. In the laboratory chemists watch pieces of red metal dissolve in a colorless liquid to produce a blue liquid and a poisonous red gas. But we try to understand what we see by using a very abstract language to discuss things – atoms, molecules, ions, and electrons – which we can't see. I think the only way to make the gigantic intellectual leap between chemistry lab-world and the chemists' mind-world is by seeing, and then talking about, experiments which illustrate chemical ideas. I am very interested in designing classroom experiments, not just demonstrations, which help my students understand chemistry. As coordinator of the general chemistry program I am also responsible for developing experiments for our general chemistry laboratory. I've put together a pamphlet, Some Lessons from the Great Copper Experiment, which uses the phenomena observed by my students in lab as the basis for learning types of reactions as well as difficult chemical ideas like relative reactivity.

In addition to course development I am interested in the chemistry of flames, the history of the periodic table, the chemistry of photography, and simple bonding models (see L.C. Allen, J.F. Capitani, G. Kolks, and G.D. Sproul, ‘Van Arkel-Ketelaar Triangles' J. Mol. Struc., 300, 647-655, 1993).


  • PHD, Columbia University
  • MPHIL, Columbia University
  • MA, Columbia University
  • BS, St. Francis College

Courses Taught

CHEM 101      General Chemistry I
CHEM 102      General Chemistry II
CHEM 103      General Chemistry Laboratory I
CHEM 104      General Chemistry Laboratory II
CHEM 335      Inorganic Chemistry
CHEM 336      Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory

  • Research

    My primary interest is teaching chemistry. I want my students to learn the facts and ideas that they will need in their professional lives. I want them to understand what chemists do and how chemists think. And I want them to see that chemistry is both important and a source of great intellectual enjoyment.

    To that end most of my time is spent scanning the literature for contemporary discoveries which can be applied to topics I’m teaching in my classes; preparing lecture summaries and problem sets; devising and writing up experiments for use in the general chemistry and inorganic chemistry laboratory courses; and reading to broaden my knowledge of chemistry. I am particularly interested in using examples taken from industrial chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, and geochemistry (especially the element cycles).

  • Publications and Scholarly Activities


    Can Teaching Assistants Grade Lab Technique? Pickering, M. and Kolks, G.; Journal of Chemical Education, 53, 313-315 (1976).
    Imidazolate-bridged Complexes of Copper(II). Kolks, G.; Frihart, CR; Rabinowitz; HN, Lippard, SJ. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 98, 5720-5721(1976).
    The Magnetic Exchange Interactions in Imidazolate Bridged Copper(II) Complexes. Kolks, G. and Lippard, SJ. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 99, 5804-5806 (1977).
    A Tricopper(II) Complex Containing a Triply Bridging Carbonate Group. Kolks, G.; Lippard, SJ; Waszczak, JV. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 102, 4832-4833 (1980).
    An Assymetric Imidazolate Bridged Dicopper(II) Complex. Katz, RN; Kolks, G.; Lippard, SJ. Inorganic Chemistry, 19, 3845-3847 (1980).
    Synthetic, Spectroscopic, and Solution Studies of Imidazolate Bridged Dicopper(II) Complexes. Kolks, G.; Frihart, CR; Coughlin, PK; Lippard, SJ. Inorganic Chemistry, 20, 2933-2940 (1981).
    Magnetic Exchange in Imidazolate Bridged Dicopper(II) Complexes. Kolks, G; Lippard, SJ; Waszczak, JV; Lilienthal, HR. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 104, 717-725 (1982).
    Stereochemistry of Imidazolate Bridged Copper(II) Complexes. Kolks, G. and Lippard, SJ; Acta Crystallographica C40, 261-271 (1984)
    The Synthesis and Properties of Binuclear Pentacyanoiron(III)--cyanoamminetetracyanoiron(III). Michels, LP; Kolks, G; Nesbitt, ER; DiMauro, PT; Kirchner, RM; Waszczk, JV. Inorganica Chemica Acta, 100, 211-218 (1985).
    Van Arkel-Ketelaar Triangles. Allen, LC; Capitani, JF; Kolks, G.; Sproul, GD. Journal of Molecular Structure, 300, 645-655 (1993).


    General Chemistry 103-104 Laboratory Manual (2000–present). Used in both semesters of the general chemistry laboratory course.
    Inorganic & Physical Chemistry Handouts (2002–present). A collection of my handouts used in my general chemistry and inorganic chemistry courses.