The Chemistry Department is home to a unique laboratory curriculum that stresses the development of independent research skills. From the very first laboratory course, Chemistry 151, the focus is on extended research projects rather than cookbook experiments. Students who graduate from this curriculum will have learned to work independently, keep research notebooks, manage their time, and speak before an audience on technical subjects. Chemistry alumni consistently enter quality graduate and professional programs or enter the workforce in a variety of corporate and industrial positions.
Laboratory instruction in the sciences can be traced almost to the founding of Hampden-Sydney College in 1776. In 1802 a committee of the board of trustees was instructed to import for the use of the College such philosophical and mathematical apparatus as should be thought most suitable. "Philosophical apparatus" meant apparatus for experimentation in "natural philosophy", which is now called chemistry and physics. Chemistry, as a separate course with laboratory, was offered at least as early as 1812. Professor John William Draper, who probably exposed the first portrait photograph taken in America on the Hampden-Sydney campus, authored his own chemistry textbook and was elected first president of the American Chemical Society when it was formed in 1876. President Cushing, for whom is named Cushing Hall, the original permanent college building, was appointed initially at Hampden-Sydney as professor of chemistry.
These early efforts have grown into a sophisticated program that is housed in a modern, equally sophisticated 54,000 sq.ft. science center, Gilmer Hall (1968). It is supported by an up-to-date array of chemical instrumentation and a vigorous faculty who are sincerely interested in teaching young men while maintaining their own extensive research interests.