Courses & Requirements
Academic requirements and courses are available in the Vassar College Catalogue.
The chemistry curriculum offers a number of degree options for students who wish to concentrate in chemistry. An A.B. in chemistry, with or without American Chemical Society (ACS) certification, a correlate sequence (minor) in chemistry, and an A.B. in biochemistry are all options. Courses offered by the department also satisfy the requirements for the Environmental Studies major.
At all levels of the curriculum, students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty and to become proficient in the use of modern instrumentation and methodologies. As early as the first year, students are encouraged to participate in original research.
Throughout the chemistry curriculum, lecture and laboratory courses are taught in conjunction with one another, and students are encouraged and expected to use sophisticated instrumentation at all levels of the curriculum. The department strongly believes in the value of the undergraduate research experience, and therefore provides research opportunities for credit at all levels of the curriculum. A senior thesis based upon a student’s independent research project is required of all chemistry majors.
An undergraduate major in chemistry is excellent preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas such as medicine, environmental science, materials science, public health, and even the law.
Chemistry majors from all classes form our Majors Committee which plays a vital role in the department, with responsibilities ranging from organizing our annual end-of-year picnic to planning and conducting outreach activities during National Chemistry Week to distributing and collating majors’ evaluations of the faculty. Majors Committee meetings are generally held every Friday at 1:00 p.m. in the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences north atrium. The Majors Committee chair announces meetings via email.
Another extremely important role of the majors is to serve as chemistry tutors and laboratory interns in the General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry laboratory courses. The laboratory interns assist the regular instructor in the teaching of the laboratory section. Some chemistry majors, as well as other interested chemistry students, are active in Vassar’s student affiliates chapter of the American Chemical Society.
The number of students who graduate from Vassar with a major in chemistry ranges from five to fifteen students each year. More than 20 students also obtain a degree in biochemistry.
First-Year Course Selection
Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter. A major in chemistry at Vassar provides preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas, such as medicine and public health, environmental science, materials science, engineering, forensics and toxicology, and is also excellent training for future teachers, lawyers, and individuals working in business or an industrial setting.
There are two chemistry courses that can be taken during the first year. The course a student elects will depend on their background in chemistry. Chemical Fundamentals (Chemistry 121) is open to all students with limited or no background in chemistry. This course is designed to provide the fundamentals of chemistry in the context of an instructor-specific theme. Chemical topics covered include units, uncertainty, significant figures, dimensional analysis, estimation, atomic theory and symbols, the periodic table, chemical nomenclature, stoichiometry, solution chemistry including an introduction to acids and bases, solubility and precipitation, and oxidation-reduction chemistry, gases, and thermochemistry. Students may take this course so as to be exposed to chemistry and the theme chosen, to meet the QA requirement, and/or to continue from this course into Chemical Principles (Chemistry 125). Chemistry 121 does not have an associated laboratory and does not count toward the Chemistry major. Chemical Principles (Chemistry 125) is designed to cover the important aspects of general chemistry in one semester and is appropriate for students who have previously studied some chemistry. The material covered in Chemistry 125 includes chemical reactions, stoichiometry, atomic and molecular structure, and general chemical physics, emphasizing the fundamental aspects of and connections between equilibria, electrochemistry, thermodynamics, and kinetics. The Chemistry Department offers a written examination to incoming first-year students interested in advanced course placement into Organic Chemistry (Chemistry 244/245). This placement is only granted in exceptional circumstances. Please consult the department for further information.
An essential aspect of training in chemistry is the experience of independent laboratory work and research. The Chemistry Department, therefore, provides students the opportunity to use sophisticated instrumentation at all levels of the curriculum and encourages student participation in independent research as early as the second semester of the first year. First-year students may work on a research project under the direction of a member of the department by electing Independent Research (Chemistry 198) after consultation with a faculty mentor.
It is strongly recommended that students have a foundational understanding of single variable calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism. Students considering majoring in chemistry should consult the department about electing the appropriate calculus and physics courses during the first and sophomore years. Basic knowledge of linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also recommended.
Students who plan to graduate in less than four years, undertake a Junior Year Abroad experience, complete pre-medical requirements, or graduate with a degree certified by the American Chemical Society should consult with a department advisor in their first semester.
Students considering majoring in chemistry should elect Chemical Principles (Chem 125) during their freshman year. As it is strongly recommended that students have a foundational understanding of single variable calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism, students considering majoring in chemistry should consult the department about electing the appropriate calculus and physics courses during the first and sophomore year. Basic knowledge of linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also recommended. Students who plan to graduate in less than four years, should consult with a department advisor in their first semester. All members of the chemistry faculty are firmly committed to assisting in the design of a student’s educational program in chemistry, and encourage students to speak with them about their plans in chemistry at any time during their undergraduate career.
A typical sequence of courses for a degree in chemistry which is certified by the ACS is:
- Chemical Principles: Chem 125
- Calculus and/or Physics
- Organic Chemistry: Chem 244/245
- Calculus and/or Physics
- Integrated Chemistry Laboratory: Chem 372/373
- Physical Chemistry: Chem 350/352
- Instrumental Analysis: Chem 362
- Biochemistry: Chem 272 or 325
- Senior Independent Research: Chem 399 (fall)
- Senior Thesis: Chem 300 (spring)
- Inorganic Chemistry: Chem 326
- 300-level elective in chemistry