Why Be a Chemistry Major Student?

Students major in chemistry for a variety of reasons:

  • About 40% of the students in our program are interested in pursuing a research career in chemistry. The lab intensive chemistry major program and the research opportunities available to students within the program provide excellent preparation for students wishing to continue on to graduate programs in chemistry. Graduates of our program typically have offers to attend several of the best chemistry graduate programs in the country.
  • About 40% of the students in our program are interested in pursuing a career in the medical or dental fields. The laboratory emphasis of the chemistry major program provides significant opportunity for students to demonstrate their ability to work with their hands, to think creatively, to troubleshoot experiments, and to solve problems on the fly, all qualities that medical schools recognize are important for professionals in medicine. Graduates of our program attend the best medical schools in the country.
  • About 20% of the students in our program are interested in a career in other professions which can benefit significantly from a solid knowledge of chemistry. Such careers might include patent law, investment and other consulting areas, veterinary science, positions in chemical industry without completion of a graduate degree, and numerous other more unusual applications of chemistry.

Chemistry Major Requirements

Students planning to major in chemistry should become thoroughly familiar with the degree requirements for both the University and the Department. The information given here is intended to supplement that given in the Undergraduate Catalog and to aid the student and their advisor in planning a suitable program of study. Majoring in chemistry will require the student to complete a sequence of related courses outside of chemistry, a set of core courses in chemistry, and a series of courses in an area of concentration. Each of these aspects of the program is described below as well as in the Undergraduate Catalog. Students wishing to declare a major in chemistry should contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

General Chemistry Major Requirements

Course requirements in the chemistry major include related courses in other sciences that are required to understand the chemistry course material, core courses in several areas of chemistry, and concentration courses allowing students to narrow their area of focus later in the program.

Related Courses

Mathematics: Math 220, 224, 230 and 234 or their equivalent.
Physics: Physics 135-1,2 and 3 or Physics 125-1,2 and 3 (ISP Students)

The required courses in math and physics listed here are intended to provide the chemistry major student with a solid base in these areas integral to the study of chemistry. Various other options are possible for completion of the math requirements; student admission to these other advanced course programs in math is made through the Department of Mathematics. It is strongly suggested that students complete the necessary math and physics courses as early as possible in their undergraduate program.

Students entering Northwestern with advanced placement in Physics may use this to fulfill the physics requirement. In the event that a student has advanced placement in non-calculus based physics (Physics 130) it is suggested that the student complete the physics sequence with Physics 135.

Core Chemistry Courses

Students majoring in chemistry must complete a specified set of core courses which is intended to provide a solid and well-rounded base from which to continue in the field of chemistry. The core program consists of the following courses:

General Chemistry: Chemistry 171 and 172  (with associated lab courses 181 and 182) or Chemistry 151 and 152 (with associated lab courses 161 and 162) or Chemistry 110, 131, and 132 (with associated lab courses 141 and 142). Students may meet this requirement through AP or IB examination performance or via the Northwestern Chemistry Placement Examination prior to the first year.
Organic Chemistry: Chemistry 212-1, 2 and 3 (with associated lab courses 232-1 and 232-2) or Chemistry 210-1, 2 and 3 (with associated lab courses 230-2 and 230-3).Students are urged to take the Chemistry 212 sequence of courses for the chemistry major.
Instrumental Analysis: Chemistry 220
Inorganic Chemistry: Chemistry 333
Physical Chemistry: Chemistry 342-1 (Thermodynamics) and Chemistry 342-2 (Quantum Mechanics) and Chemistry 342-3 (Kinetics and Stat Thermo) or Chemistry 348 (ISP only; majors who are also ISP majors need only take this course to fulfill the Physical Chemistry portion of the core program.)
Advanced Laboratory: Chemistry 350-1, 2 and 3

Areas of Concentration

Areas of concentration draw upon courses within the department as well as in other departments. Each student must complete three (3) courses in a selected area of concentration, typically during their final year of study. There are six (6) areas of concentration as well as a self-designed concentration area. The six areas along with their associated courses are as follows:

Chem 305, Chem 314, Chem 316, Chem 329, Chem 432, Biological Sciences 309
Environmental Chemistry
Chem 306, Chem 329, Chem 393, Civil Engineering 314, Civil Engineering 365, Civil Engineering 367
Inorganic Chemistry
Chem 302, Chem 329, Chem 418, Chem 433, Chem 434, Chem 435
Organic Chemistry Chem 301, Chem314, Chem 316, Chem 319, Chem 329, Chem 410, Chem 411, Chem 412, Chem 413-1, Chem 415, Chem 417, Chem 418
Physical Chemistry
Chem 303, Chem 329, Chem 417, Chem 442-1, Chem 442-2, Chem 443, Chem 444, Chem 445, Chem 448
Chem 307, Chem 308, Chem 329, Chem 360, Materials Science 201, Materials Science 331, Materials Science 333, Materials Science335, Materials Science370

Self-Designed Concentration

Students interested in an area of concentration other than those listed here may design a series of three courses with a consistent theme in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Chemistry.

Chemistry Major Program for Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME) Students

The chemistry major requirements for HPME students include all of the general chemistry major requirements with the following changes:

By WCAS regulations, students in the accelerated HPME program are permitted two course waivers in their major program. For the chemistry major, only one of these waivers may be used for a core program course; the second waiver may be used for a concentration course.

Chemistry Second Major for ISP Students

The Integrated Science Program (ISP) is a highly selective BA program in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (see Integrated Science Program) requiring students to take courses in a wide variety of sciences, including chemistry. Students majoring in ISP who wish to complete a second major in chemistry take a slightly different set of courses for the chemistry major:

  • Core program: Chem 171/172 (with associated lab courses 181 and 182) or equivalent, Chem 212-1, 2, 3 (with associated lab courses 232-1, 2), Chem 220, Chem 333, Chem 348 (material equivalent to Chem 342-1, 3; material equivalent to that in Chem 342-2 is covered in physics quantum mechanics courses required for all ISP major students), Chem 350-1,2,3
  • Concentration: 2 courses from a selected concentration area

Chemistry Major Program for Secondary Teaching

Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences students pursuing a major in chemistry who also wish to be certified for secondary school teaching must be admitted to the Secondary Teaching Program in the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and complete all requirements as outlined in the SESP chapter of this catalog. Students are urged to contact the Office of Student Affairs in SESP as early as possible in their academic careers and to discuss this program with Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies to plan their schedule appropriately.

Graduation with Honors

Graduating seniors who have demonstrated a solid academic record as well as a strong research effort during their time at Northwestern may want to put themselves forward for consideration by the Department and WCAS for Graduation with Honors in Chemistry.

The Chemistry Department’s Honors Committee would need to make a recommendation to the College Honors Committee on behalf of any student to be considered by the College for Graduation with Honors. To be recommended by the Department for honors the student must meet the following requirements:

  • Complete, or have nearly completed, the requirements for the major in chemistry.
  • Maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.3 or above in chemistry courses, excluding Chem 398 or Chem 399 research courses. In the case of extraordinary accomplishments in research, such as authorship on a published research paper or contribution of an independent idea that had a major impact on a particular research project, a student with a GPA < 3.3 might be considered for graduation in honors. Under no circumstance will a student with a GPA < 3.0 in chemistry be considered for graduation with Honors.
  • Be engaged in independent research while a student and have completed a minimum of two quarters of Chemistry 399, Independent Study, prior to spring quarter of the senior year.
  • Submit a Senior Thesis based on this research (see below).
  • Provide a strong letter of nomination for Graduation with Honors from their research advisor (see below).

The Chemistry Department Honors Committee will meet to review the letters of recommendation and discuss the candidates. After considering all the pertinent information, the committee will vote on the nature of the work. A positive vote of the committee is required for honors designation. The decision of the committee is final.

For more information on Graduation with Honors for chemistry majors, it is strongly suggested that students contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

The Senior Thesis

During the fall term of their senior year graduating seniors will be contacted by the Department about Graduation with Honors in Chemistry. Students wishing to put themselves forward for consideration then would prepare a Senior Thesis during the winter term of their senior year. The thesis should reflect all or some portion of the student’s independent research at Northwestern, but the topics selected are up to the student and his/her advisor. To qualify for honors, the research must have an “original” component, where “original” is defined as not being a straightforward repetition of previous work with no changes. Inputting data into a canned program for analysis does not qualify as original work. When the work is part of a team effort, that aspect of the work carried out by the honors student must have the same “original” component. Independent research is defined as carrying out some aspect of the work individually. Independence does not require an independent proposal of new research ideas or new procedures.

The document itself should be in the standard format of any article being submitted for publication to a refereed journal. Students are encouraged to consult the ACS Style Guide in preparing their Senior Thesis. It also is suggested that before the preliminary submission is made the student have discussed the thesis with their advisor and that some assistance was provided on the format of the thesis as well as its content.

The deadline for submitting the thesis is the end of the first week of the spring term of the student’s final year at Northwestern. Two copies are to be submitted to the department for review by this date.

Once submitted the Departmental Honors Committee will have the thesis reviewed by a member of the faculty. This anonymous reviewer will make suggestions to the student on how the thesis itself might be made stronger. This review typically will take two weeks. The reviewer will return the thesis, along with any comments or suggestions to the committee which will in turn return it to the student. The student would then have one week to address any suggestion and correct the originally submitted thesis. Once this is done one copy of the thesis and an electronic version would be submitted to the department for final review.

Students wishing to see example of previous senior theses are directed to the chemistry major Blackboard site.