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Topic: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?  (Read 4155 times)

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Offline SUNNY_physics

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should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« on: January 25, 2013, 10:51:51 PM »
currently most BS chemistry programs require the following classes:

Calculus 1,2,3
Linear Algebra, Differential Equations
General Physics 1,2,3
Programming

General Chemistry 1,2 / Labs
Organic Chemistry 1,2 / Labs
Physical Chemistry 1,2 / Labs
Analytical Chemistry/Lab
Inorganic Chemistry/Lab
Biochemistry / Lab

The problem with this schedule is that people are done with all required classes in year 3, even for the ACS certified degree. However, with just these classes, it is hard to be employed in industry and it is hard to be well prepared for grad school, so people have to go above and beyond. However, this reflects bad if someone doesn't go above and beyond, and is unprepared.

I believe that there should be some additional required classes that specifically prepare students for industry and grad school. They are not hard at all, and indeed, they are what chemistry students should already know!

Theory of Intermolecular Forces. Good prerequisites: 1 year of P-chem, calc 3.

Should use books such as "Surface and Colloid Chemistry", "Capillary Forces", "Intermolecular Forces", etc. Should cover review of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and basic electrostatics, equilibrium states and van Der Waals equations of state, ionic bonding, dipole-dipole bonding, van Der Waals forces, hydrogen bonding, biopolymers and colloids, adhesion and wetting, friction, theory of atomic force microscopy.

11 topics for a semester class (15-16 weeks) is pretty good. First 5 weeks cover review, equilibrium states and van Der Waals equations of state, then take a test. 2nd 5 weeks cover ionic bonding, dipole-dipole forces, van Der Waals forces, hydrogen bonding, biopolymer and colloids, then take a test. Last 5 weeks cover adhesion and wetting, friction, theory of atomic force microscopy, take a comprehensive final.

I believe all chemists should know about the physical basis of intermolecular forces. P-chem stops short at quantum, then leaps straight to stat mech and thermo. It turns out that many people graduate from chemistry programs without knowing ANYTHING about the chemical forces that shape our world. I personally think that as chemists, we should DEFINITELY know about how molecules come together to make real materials at a deep level of understanding.

Even biochemists should know this, in my opinion. Biological structures have shape, and deform in response to mechanical and electromagnetic shear forces. We should know how they'll respond, at least qualitatively (you still have to do the math, but the math is to help you remember orders of magnitude). Also, basically all chemists at some point will use an AFM except maybe purely organic chemists. In practical terms, this is also a useful class to learn about product formulation, suspension stability, surface measurements, etc. Why is this class not even OFFERED at most universities, never mind required?

Another useful required class would be:

Supramolecular Structural Analysis. Prereqs: 1 year of p-chem + analytical chemistry + inorganic chemistry.

Topics: theory + lab

X-ray diffraction, dynamic light scattering, electron microscopy, AFM, CCD camera use. 15 week class, 5 topics. take a quiz every 3 weeks, then do the lab, then write a report. Repeat 5 times.

Again this is something I'm baffled as to why we don't offer classes like this. We get our dose of small molecule analysis in intro analytical chemistry with HPLCs, GCMS and the like. However, ALOT of the chemistry being done today is on things bigger than a single molecule. After all useful molecules do arrange themselves into solids or liquids and knowing their structure is essential. This is why holders of a BS in chemistry should be familiar with BOTH forms of analytical chemistry, not just small molecule analytical chemistry but also condensed phase analytical chemistry.

X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy and AFM are used all the time in inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry and hard materials science. People get hired just to use and interpret these machines. In grad school, knowing how to use these machines is essential, and it simply slows down research if people have never even seen one of these machines before.

Dynamic light scattering and CCD cameras are used all the time in biochemistry, polymer chemistry and soft materials science. How can we track nanoparticle size, or movements of cells, without being exposed to dynamic light scattering and CCD cameras? This improves employment and improves grad school preparation.

All in all, I'm very confused as to why, at least, these 2 classes are not required for chemistry students. You'd think that the core of chemistry was knowing how matter is put together and how it changes, and not knowing how one molecule sticks to another molecule is a pretty big loophole, and not knowing how to analyze and image how one molecule sticks to another molecule is yet another big loophole.

If these were abstract and purely academic topics, maybe there's an excuse not to teach them. But they're not; people get hired based on this knowledge alone and grad school research at many times REQUIRES this sort of knowledge, but students seemingly have to learn it themselves. Why do that when chemists can UNIFORMLY get better preparation for both work and grad school, if schools were simply to institute 2 required senior classes?

Offline curiouscat

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2013, 11:56:00 PM »
I think you could make similar arguments for many other classes too.

It's subjective. The answer probably is to have plenty of electives on tap. Someone going to Grad School for Synthesis will need a different optimal toolkit than someone ending up as a Chemist in a Brewery.

Offline SUNNY_physics

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2013, 12:33:29 AM »
But both would benefit at least somewhat from a knowledge of these 2 topics. Even organic chemists benefit from a deep knowledge of intermolecular forces when doing separations. In the past XRD was commonly used in organic chemistry as well.

The other thing is that chemistry electives have become extremely heavily weighed towards qualitative biology and organic based classes, and there's a gaping hole where no department has any classes whatsoever in say, the theory of intermolecular forces.

Offline Dan

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2013, 05:11:33 AM »
Surely this depends on the institution? Are you just talking about the USA?

I had to study most of the topics you mentioned to get my undergraduate degree, but degrees are more focused in the UK compared to the USA - I studied relatively little biology, biochemistry or physics, for example.
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Offline Arkcon

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2013, 09:23:11 AM »
Does a student really have time, given there are also core requirements?  At least 4 semesters of literature, at least 3 semesters of sociology, at 2 or 3 semesters of history, and the like?
Hey, I'm not judging.  I just like to shoot straight.  I'm a man of science.

Offline Raphael

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2013, 12:24:41 PM »
I think those classes would be great. I think the more the better, but I don't think the system (at least in the USA) is set up for it. Colleges make you take so many other classes that have very little to do with chemistry which take up a lot of time. And then you add in things like students that need to work, or take care of a family and then every chemistry student should also be doing some kind of research while in school.

Although it probably really depends on how many more classes would be added and where they would fit into the sequence of classes.

Also, do a lot of programs really make you take programming?   

Offline SUNNY_physics

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2013, 04:20:30 PM »
I was required to take a programming class at my school. I don't know about others though. It was not a general programming class but one just for chemistry majors. Not that it made a difference though; instead of programming to solve projectile motion we programmed to solve chemical kinetics, for example. The part I remember best was being guided through a Monte Carlo simulation and understanding none of it  :)

The thing about the class requirements is, even with 2 added classes its still a low amount of required classes compared to other majors. Usually a full load is 4 full classes, or 3 classes that have labs, per semester. Right now its usually 18 required classes, 9 of which have labs. So you can theoretically finish in 3 years:

year 1 semester 1: calc 1, phys 1, gen chem 1, GE semester 2: calc 2, phys 2, gen chem 2, GE

year 2 semester 1: calc 3, phys 3, ochem 1, GE year 3 semester 2: linear algebra, ochem 2, diff EQ, programming

year 3 semester 1: pchem 1, analytical, inorganic, GE year 3 semester 2: pchem 2, biochem, inorganic lab, GE x2

year 4: technical electives x6, GE x2, research

that was my rough schedule. Replacing electives x6 with "2 required classes + electives x4". There are a total of 8 GE slots, which actually was enough for my school; we needed 2 writing classes before advancing to upper division, 1 history class and 1 economics class. Then we needed to fill sociology, etc. requirements and that happened last 2 years.

Even with this proposed schedule its not too rigorous compared to other science majors. Electrical Engineers have it pretty bad. Their "recommended schedule" had 5 technical classes per semester at times. Mechanical Engineers don't have it any better. Physicists also have more required upper division classes: 1 year each of modern physics, EM and quantum, 1 class each on thermodynamics, advanced math and classical mechanics. Chemists have it pretty nice, but I suspect that has been reflected in declining or stagnant pay for industry jobs and increased graduation times for grad students.

Offline SUNNY_physics

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2013, 04:27:56 PM »
Surely this depends on the institution? Are you just talking about the USA?

I had to study most of the topics you mentioned to get my undergraduate degree, but degrees are more focused in the UK compared to the USA - I studied relatively little biology, biochemistry or physics, for example.

I learned X-ray diffraction, electron microscopy and AFM in a senior level materials chemistry class that was an elective. The problem was it was mixed with other labs on materials synthesis, so we had extremely long hours with extremely rushed projects. It would be better, IMO, to separate solid state synthesis into another lab.

Many biochemists were using these tools as well, and they didn't know anything about it, and they didn't take the materials chemistry class because they thought it was physical and inorganic chemists only. So they had to learn it on their own, with little guidance, during their graduate studies. Having it be required would make things much easier.

There were no classes offered in ANY department including chemical engineering, physics, etc. about intermolecular forces which would have been a great help for my graduate research right now. Sure, as a grad student, I'm expected to learn on my own, but having guidance and a class grade to "prove" my competence both to myself and others would've been more reassuring.

Offline Raphael

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2013, 07:23:33 PM »
I was required to take a programming class at my school. I don't know about others though. It was not a general programming class but one just for chemistry majors. Not that it made a difference though; instead of programming to solve projectile motion we programmed to solve chemical kinetics, for example. The part I remember best was being guided through a Monte Carlo simulation and understanding none of it  :)

Kind of glad I don't have that and at the same time I wish i did have that. Though I have been told by a handful of people I should go take some programing classes anyway.

The thing about the class requirements is, even with 2 added classes its still a low amount of required classes compared to other majors. Usually a full load is 4 full classes, or 3 classes that have labs, per semester. Right now its usually 18 required classes, 9 of which have labs. So you can theoretically finish in 3 years:

You are probably right two added class wouldn't be too bad.

year 1 semester 1: calc 1, phys 1, gen chem 1, GE semester 2: calc 2, phys 2, gen chem 2, GE

year 2 semester 1: calc 3, phys 3, ochem 1, GE year 3 semester 2: linear algebra, ochem 2, diff EQ, programming

year 3 semester 1: pchem 1, analytical, inorganic, GE year 3 semester 2: pchem 2, biochem, inorganic lab, GE x2

year 4: technical electives x6, GE x2, research

interesting this is mine
year 1 semester 1: calc 1, gen chem 1 + lab, general electives semester 2: calc 2, gen chem 2 +lab, general electives

year 2 semester 1: calc 3, phys 1, ochem 1 + lab, general electives,  year 3 semester 2: ochem 2 + lab, inorganic 1, physics II

year 3 semester 1: pchem 1, analytical 1 + lab intermediate O-chem + lab , GE year 3 semester 2: pchem 2,  Pchem-1 lab, analytical 2 + lab, , GE x2

year 4: Semester 1: inorganic II, P-chem lab II + electives. semester inorganic III, bio chem, inorganic lab.
And for most people they are doing research for as much of it as they can. I have one friend that has been doing research since his second semester here.

that was my rough schedule. Replacing electives x6 with "2 required classes + electives x4". There are a total of 8 GE slots, which actually was enough for my school; we needed 2 writing classes before advancing to upper division, 1 history class and 1 economics class. Then we needed to fill sociology, etc. requirements and that happened last 2 years.
How many total credits did it add up to? Sounds like you might need to take less than I am.

Even with this proposed schedule its not too rigorous compared to other science majors. Electrical Engineers have it pretty bad. Their "recommended schedule" had 5 technical classes per semester at times. Mechanical Engineers don't have it any better. Physicists also have more required upper division classes: 1 year each of modern physics, EM and quantum, 1 class each on thermodynamics, advanced math and classical mechanics. Chemists have it pretty nice, but I suspect that has been reflected in declining or stagnant pay for industry jobs and increased graduation times for grad students.

I think it would really come down to what school you are studying at. I have seen some pretty poor physics programs before. And I have seen some chemistry programs that are pretty damn good.

I think adding classes to a list of what everyone should learn that gets a BS in chemistry will always be hard since there will be so many different people saying such different topics that should be added.

No one really asked me, but I really think there is no good solution to make everyone "ready" for grad school or working in industry as far as adding or subtracting classes goes. You really have to hope that the people that graduate have learned the basics of chemistry well, have learned how to think logically, know how to problem solve well and have learned to sit down with a book or go to a seminar or do something to educate themselves when they don't know something.

Offline curiouscat

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2013, 10:44:21 PM »
IMHO, Programming is a very important skill for a Chemistry Major; especially more in the coming years.

I'd go as far as to say it doesn't make sense for any Science major to be granted without at least one class in programming.

Offline eazye1334

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Re: should there be more required classes for a BS in chemistry?
« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2013, 07:36:20 AM »
It's not unreasonable to add two more classes, but like others have brought up, US programs typically aren't set up to do that. I don't know much about other countries and their requirements, so I can't comment on that.

That's actually one of the reasons I went to the University of Rochester as they only have 1 required class for everyone to take (a writing class). Otherwise, you take clusters, which are groupings of courses outside your major. You can take essentially anything you like as long as you can demostrate a link between them (very easy to do). This way, you can actually choose course you are interested in and are at least tangetially-related to your major. Engineering majors only require 1 cluster due to having more required courses, and all other majors take 2 clusters.

It's a great system because it allows you to find something else you may enjoy and it breaks up all the science. Because of the cluster I took in philiosophy, I ended up enjoying it so much I took a few extra courses and got a minor in Ethics.

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