What is Chemistry?
Chemistry is the study of molecules. Chemists synthesize molecules and analyze their structures, properties, and reactions that transform one molecule to another. Because chemistry is a central, multifaceted science, it extends into physics, mathematics, biology, medicine, business, and commerce.
Why Major in Chemistry?
Discover New Insights to Meet Technological Needs
Studying chemistry provides you the opportunity to explore the structure and constitution of the microworlds of atoms and molecules, the chemical and physical transformations that occur, and the principles that govern these changes. Chemistry yields insights into nature, new methods for creating novel compounds and useful materials, and new ways for meeting the needs of an increasingly technological society.
A Chance to Pioneer Greater Advancements
You can become one of the pioneers who continue our modern advancements. Already chemistry has witnessed new insights resulting in the synthesis of a vast array of compounds useful in medicine, industry, and agriculture. On the horizon are advancements in superconducting materials, solar cells, chemical memory devices, and new drugs for treatment of some of the world’s most devastating diseases.
You Can Do a Lot with a Chemistry Major
After graduation you can go on to graduate work in chemistry or biochemistry, to medical school, or perhaps to business school or law school. Or, you can choose to proceed directly to a position in government, industry, or education. Here are some examples of the professions toward which our graduates have applied their chemistry major:
- Environmental Health Analyst
- Chemical Sales Representative
- Food Technologist
- Industrial Hygienist
- Patent Examiner
- Product Tester
- Quality Control Manager
Chemistry at Washington University
Our primary goal is to provide you with an exceptional educational foundation, individualized to direct you toward your choice of productive, satisfying, and creative careers in chemistry and related fields.
Two Different Degrees
To do this, we offer a broad range of courses leading to two slightly different degrees:
- Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry.
Each path has an Honors eligibility program, which is strongly recommended if you plan to continue your interests in a graduate program.
- Biochemistry/Biological Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Nuclear Chemistry
- Physical Chemistry
- Theoretical Chemistry
Strong Areas of Specialization
- Computer Modeling
- DNA and RNA Chemistry
- Drug-Receptor Interactions
- Electron Spin Resonance
- Environmental Chemistry
- Femtosecond Laser Spectroscopy
- Heterocyclic Chemistry
- Laser Spectroscopy
- Mass Spectrometry
- Materials Chemistry
- Membrane Chemistry
- Natural Products
- Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
- Nuclear Reactions
- Nuclear Structure
- Organic Electrochemistry
- Organometallic Chemistry
- Polymer Synthesis
- Silicon Chemistry
- Statistical Mechanics
- Synthetic Organic Chemistry
The Major: Course Requirements
Whether you choose a chemistry major or a chemistry major with a concentration in biochemistry, departmental requirements specify a minimum of 18 units in advanced courses in chemistry or biochemistry. To be eligible for honors, you must take a minimum of 21 units in advanced courses.
Flexibility to Design Your Program
As you complete your major, you will receive both a strong foundation in the core areas of chemistry as well as an introduction to emerging interdisciplinary fields. You will have the chance to experiment, to learn more about your interests and skills, and to customize your studies through elective courses.
Perform Original Research
Chemistry majors are strongly encouraged to work closely with a faculty member in designing and carrying out an original research project. There are close research ties with the departments of Physics, Earth & Planetary Sciences, Biology, Chemical and Mechanical Engineering, and various departments in the School of Medicine. In some cases, you can take part in a research internship a t St. Louis companies such as Sigma-Aldrich or Reliable Biopharmaceutical, to give you a real taste of how chemistry is used outside the academic environment.
Examples of Recent Undergraduate Research
As an undergraduate researcher in the chemistry department, you could be involved in exciting projects such as these:
- Using magnetic resonance techniques to understand how hyperthermia destroys solid tumors.
- Synthesizing organometallic analogues of benzene in order to study the phenomenon of “aromaticity” in metal-containing rings.
- Using solution-phase processing methods to produce nano-particles. Semi-conductor nanoparticles exhibit size-dependent band gaps and large non-linear optical effects that may lead to the next generation of optical and electro-optic devices.
- Examining the chemistry of highly reactive, short-lived species, such as carbenes, silylenes, germylenes, and phosphinidenes.
- Developing new techniques in mass spectrometry for the separation and structural analysis of picomolar quantities of biomolecules.
- Using ultrafast laser spectroscopy to understand the primary photochemical reactions of photosynthesis.
- Constructing a general set of conformationally restricted peptide building blocks using organic electrochemistry. These molecules can be used to examine the biological activity of particular peptide conformations.
- Studying the shapes of superdeformed atomic nuclei at high angular momentum.
- Studying the relationship between sunlight and skin cancer by determining the structures and conformations of DNA photo-products and then synthesizing building blocks for their sequence-specific incorporation into DNA.
- Using synthetic chemistry to develop renewable energy catalysts and chemical agents for controlling metal-catalyzed processes in neurodegenerative diseases.
- Taking part in the development of synthetic methods for chiral molecules.
- Using surface chemistry to understand neuronal wiring.
- Applying solid-state NMR to problems in materials science, in particular semiconductors and the photochemistry of organic single crystals and polymers.
- Using lasers to understand photochemistry and photophysics of heteroaromatic compounds.
The minor in chemistry also has certain prerequisites and requires nine advanced-level units. Deviations from these requirements—based on personal interests—can sometimes be handled on an individual basis.
If you have exceptional high school training, you may take the Advanced Placement (AP) Examination in Chemistry given for secondary school students by the College Board and administered by the Educational Testing Service in May each year. Check with your high school counselor for the date and registration details.
If you earn a score of 5 on this examination, you will be awarded 6 units of credit. However, you will not be allowed to enroll in more advanced chemistry courses. To exempt General Chemistry, you may take the departmental placement test given during the first week of classes each fall.
Advanced placement out of non-chemistry courses required for the major in chemistry is possible. For details, consult the departments concerned.
The program for majors offered by the Department of Chemistry is approved by the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Requirements for the ACS certification specify a minimum of 21 units in advanced courses in chemistry or biochemistry, plus three additional units of advanced laboratory work. Some restrictions exist on which courses may be used to fulfill these requirements. Consult your faculty advisor for details.