McMurry makes bestselling chemistry text free in memory of son

The kindness of his deceased son Peter inspired John McMurry, chemistry professor emeritus in the College of Arts and Sciences, to offer the 10th edition of his bestselling organic chemistry textbook as a free open educational resource (OER) through OpenStax, an educational technology initiative of Rice University.

“If Peter were still alive, I have no doubt that he would want me to work on this 10th edition with a publisher that made the book free to students,” McMurry said. “Our family has therefore decided to honor Peter in a unique way: by changing the way textbooks are created and distributed, potentially reducing textbook costs for everyone.”

Peter, who died in 2019 at age 51 after a long struggle with cystic fibrosis, was “truly the kindest person I have ever known,” McMurry said. “He would help anyone, talk to anyone, make anyone feel good.”

McMurry’s Organic Chemistry is the market-leading textbook for organic chemistry, a notoriously challenging course for science students and a required course for aspiring medical students. First published in 1984 by Cengage Learning, the text has been translated into 12 languages and used by several million students throughout the world in its first nine editions.

The 10th edition of “Organic Chemistry” will be available online for the Fall 2023 semester in web and PDF formats alongside additional resources and courseware.

“This is a watershed moment for OpenStax and the open educational resources (OER) movement,” said Richard Baraniuk, founder and director of OpenStax. “This publication will quickly provide a free, openly licensed, high-quality resource to hundreds of thousands of students in the U.S. taking organic chemistry, removing what can be a considerable cost and access barrier.”

McMurry said that production costs for the OpenStax edition have been covered by generous supporters, who have also made a $500,000 donation to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to help find a cure for the disease.

Peter made a difference even while he was being treated for cystic fibrosis, said McMurry, serving as a designated patient advocate to new medical students.

“Just about every first-year medical student at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center knew and admired Peter, who was asked every year to meet and speak with incoming students about his experiences as a patient,” John McMurry said in a blog post published by OpenStax. “He always enjoyed talking to the students, kidding them about their having had to take an organic chemistry course in college and asking if anyone recognized his last name from their O-Chem textbook.”

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Book cover: Organic Chemistry
Book cover: Organic Chemistry