Open-source textbook makes STEM education more accessible 

Textbooks can be costly, particularly for advanced-level and specialized courses. To reduce this burden and increase access to the fundamentals of physical chemistry, UIC’s Preston Snee wrote and released a new, open-source textbook available online for free. 

Lab vials containing blue green and orange fluid.
Quantum dots created by Preston Snee’s research lab.

The textbook’s name, “Free Energy,” plays on both the lack of a price tag and thermodynamics, one of the book’s core concepts. Other subjects covered include entropy, electrochemistry and quantum mechanics, following the curriculum of most Physical Chemistry I and II courses at U.S. universities.  

Snee, an associate professor of chemistry, started work on the textbook eight years ago, first adapting handouts he created for his UIC courses and then filling in material to build out a comprehensive overview of the field. For the last two years, he’s used it in his teaching and refined it based on student feedback — while likely saving each student a couple hundred dollars in costs, he estimates. 

But Snee hopes that the textbook will take on a life of its own beyond the UIC campus. The textbook is under a Creative Commons license which allows for open sharing and adaptation. 

“I designed it such that people can take it and change it; you don’t need my permission,” Snee said. “People can rearrange it if they want, they can add where there’s something missing or they can use it to create their own handouts on this subject. It’s going to improve and improve as more people get interested and adapt it.” 

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