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Many general chemistry courses (at least in the US) or online tutorials solve problems of chemical equilibrium by using ICE (sometimes RICE) tables, which track how the moles of reactants and products change going from an initial state to equilibrium.

I'm curious when this technique became so widespread and who developed it? My understanding is that ICE tables are a somewhat modern pedagogical tool, but I have yet to find a source for the idea and when it was popularized.

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    $\begingroup$ Looked in "Books" with Google for "ICE table" & Chemistry. First I found was Chemistry, Principles & Practice by Daniel L. Reger, Scott R. Goode, Edward E. Mercer, Saunders College Pub., 1997 $\endgroup$ – MaxW Apr 2 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure this is not just marketing? I mean, is this not just a book-keeping device? You solve these problems the same way no matter what you call them, right? $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Apr 2 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ @NightWriter it is marketing, but someone had to be doing the marketing. Somebody had to convince every general chemistry textbook writer that this was the best way to represent these problems. An analogus situation happened in math where a lot of elementary school students aren't taught long multiplication, but instead use tables. It's all the same math, but it supposedly makes a difference in how well students can understand what they are doing. $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Apr 2 at 13:58
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ICE tables are mentioned in an 2003 J Chem Ed article by S. Watkins:

A systematic approach to chemical reaction calculations, which is an extension and elaboration of the equilibrium table method first observed by this author in the text by Masterton and Slowinski (4) nearly thirty years ago, is presented. Most texts utilize an “ICE” (initial, change, equilibrium) table when discussing equilibrium (5), but this author has found none that apply the technique systematically to stoichiometry problems.

The textbook cited is Masterton, W. L.; Slowinski, E. J. Chemical Principles, 3rd ed.;Saunders: Philadelphia, 1973; p 355.

So according to this, they have been around at least since 1973.

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  • $\begingroup$ This article discusses the history and application of the concept of "extent of reaction". ICE tables are a hidden way of introducing the extent of reaction, which is a concept that can be used to solve multi-reaction problems distinct from the usual system of equations from mass and charge balances. $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis Apr 2 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the answer or close to it. I will look around for that original textbook and accept this answer in a day or so. $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Apr 2 at 20:09
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As expected the concept of equilibrium calculations is more than a century old idea. The algebra has not changed. Check internet archives for classical general chemistry textbooks to see how equilibrium calculations were done in 60s-70s. If you are specifically looking for the representation of "initial, change, equilibrium" tables, this is also four decades old. Books from the early 80s used this approach. See for example "Chemistry with inorganic qualitative analysis" by Thenard (1980). These days everyone likes to coin fancy acronyms and words. Gold colloids became gold nanoparticles, and "initial, change, equilibrium" became ICE!

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    $\begingroup$ My main interest is in the representation. I know the math of it likely hasn't changed in over a century, but the structure of how it is taught has. I'm interested in what convinced people to make this the de facto standard for this type of problem and when. Based on your answer and MaxW's comments on the linked post, it likely started being used in the 70s. $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Apr 2 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ In problem solving, teachers tend to develop protocols (algorithms) so that everyone can systematically follow the approach. ICE is perhaps one of them. $\endgroup$ – M. Farooq Apr 2 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Thats what I expect. However for it to be widely popularized, I think some had to be the first to include it in a textbook or write a chemical education article about the idea. $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Apr 2 at 16:41

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