Chemistry Curriculum

CHEMISTRY, in keeping with our motto "Our students do chemistry as it's done by chemists today," has a well-equipped sequence of laboratory courses that make possible a unique, four-year integrated laboratory experience.

How is the chemistry laboratory program unique?

  • First, it is a completely separate series of courses within the chemistry curriculum.
  • Second, laboratory work is in the form of extended projects 1 semester long in the freshman/sophomore years and 1 to 2 semesters long in the junior/senior years. Each student's project is uniquely his own there are no perforated experiment sheets to be filled out and handed in. Each student researches, creates, and defends his own experimental procedures and maintains a research-style notebook from his first day as a freshman until his last day as a senior.
  • Third, laboratory work is viewed not as training in specific techniques but as attitudinal training to prepare students to be independent professionals. Thus, in gradual stages from freshman to senior, the student learns to define scientific problems, to design solutions with the aid of faculty and library resources, to carry out and interpret sophisticated experiments of his own design, and to communicate his findings orally and in writing. The faculty pay special attention to developing communication skills of students via informal oral quizzes, conferences, and seminars.

The first two years of laboratory are devoted to acquiring technical skills and manipulative facility as well as experience in experimental design. The outline of those years below details the projects and the techniques acquired during them.

The Introductory Laboratory Sequence

Chemistry 151

Project IA: Synthesis of coordination compound that contains a transition metal and halide and organometallic ligands. Techniques: Organizing and keeping a research notebook; using chemical literature to research, design, & complete simple inorganic synthesis. Techniques: weighing and recrystallization.

Project IB: Quantitative analysis of compound from Project IA for % metal, % halide, mole ratio. Techniques: Gravimetric halide and volumetric EDTA metal analysis. Atomic absorption spectroscopy; infrared spectroscopy (optional).

Chemistry 152

Project IIA: Separation and identification of a mixture of two unknown organic liquids Techniques: Distillation, Gas Chromatography, Proton and Carbon Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Infrared Spectroscopy

Project IIB: Identification of an unknown solid organic acid Techniques: Melting Point Determination, Determination of pKa and Equivalent Weight by Acid-Base Titration

The Intermediate Laboratory Sequence

Chemistry 251

Project IIIA: Chemical separation of an acid and purification of components by recrystallization and distillation. Techniques: Acid/base extractions; recrystallization, vacuum distillation.

Project IIIB: Determination of pKa of organic acid. Techniques: Acid/base theory; titrations; use of pH meter; computer spreadsheet data analysis.

Project IIIC: Spectrometric identification of organic acid and neutral component of mixture. Techniques: Theory and practice of infrared, nuclear magnetic resonance, and mass spectroscopy.

Project IIID: Quantitation of mixture components by Beer's Law analysis with statistical variance analysis. Techniques: Development of structural principles and statistical error analysis.

Chemistry 251

Project IV: Multistep synthesis with literature search; kinetics of ester hydrolysis by visible absorption spectrometry. Techniques: Use of chemical literature; synthetic and kinetic techniques; linear free energy relationships; Arrhenius plots and analyses.

The Advanced (Junior/Senior) Laboratory Sequence

Chemistry 351/352/451/452

Junior and senior chemistry majors enroll in successive semesters in Advanced Laboratory: Chemistry 351, 352, 451, and 452. Each of these laboratory courses meets two afternoons per week for a semester. During each course the student focuses his attention on a single semester-long project. In the total four- semester sequence a student generally collaborates with each member of the department for a semester. During a typical project, the student completes a literature search as the basis for a written project proposal, meets weekly with his collaborating professor to discuss the progress of his work, presents at least one research seminar, and completes a formal technical report of his investigations. Thus, by the time of graduation, each chemistry major has completed four extended projects in the various fields of chemistry. Projects involve advanced synthetic techniques in biochemistry and in organic and inorganic chemistry, chemical analysis and structure determination by instrumental methods, computer acquisition and reduction of data, and instrumental development and evaluation. The levels of projects are adjusted for the background of each student and, over the two-year period of Advanced Laboratory experience, projects are selected to give the student a background as wide as, if not wider than, the conventional laboratories operated at other institutions.

The success of the laboratory program is dependent on three factors: First, the laboratory is carefully controlled: In addition to nominal supervision while he works, the student has a weekly 30 minute "research" conference with the professor in charge of his project. To that conference the student brings a brief written research report that recounts his work of the previous week, evaluates the significance of the work in relation to his overall project, and plans his work for the forthcoming week. His report is examined, his progress is discussed and compared with his previous plan of action, and that plan is reviewed and revised as necessary. Second, the student has received attitudinal and technical preparation from the introductory laboratories. When he enters Advanced Lab, he has used VPC, IR, and NMR as routine tools in pursuing earlier projects. He has synthesized several organic and coordination com- pounds, and has characterized them with the spectral techniques mentioned above; he has repeatedly used both the primary and secondary literature and has written journal-style reports. Most important, he has been induced to think for himself: to find relevant literature, to design experiments, to carry these out (and repeat them if necessary), and to cope with unexpected results. Third, the program works because the projects are tailored to suit the student's needs, interests, abilities, and background, and because the students find the projects interesting. This last point is crucial: there are few problems of motivation when laboratory work closely approximates real chemistry, done as a real chemist would do it, using the most modern techniques.

The program as outlined above is challenging for undergraduates. That it is successful is evidenced by the number and quality of chemistry majors and by the success of recent graduates (over 80% of whom have gone on to graduate or professional school).