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Advice for First-Year Students

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. Chemistry 121, Chemical Fundamentals, 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 Chemistry 125, Chemical Principles. Chemistry 121 does not have an associated laboratory and does not count toward the Chemistry major. Chemistry 125, Chemical Principles, 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 year. 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.

More information on the chemistry curriculum may be found in the Vassar College Catalogue.