Chemistry

Chemistry seeks to understand our physical world on an atomic level. This microscopic picture uses the elements of the periodic table as building blocks for a vast array of molecules, ranging from water to DNA. But some of the most fascinating aspects of chemistry involve chemical reactions, where molecules combine and transform—sometimes dramatically—to generate new molecules.

Chemistry explores many areas of our physical world, ranging from our bodies and the air that we breathe to the many products of the human endeavor and including art and a plethora of consumer products. Students at Sarah Lawrence College may investigate these diverse areas of chemistry through a variety of courses: Atmospheric Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Nutrition, Photographic Chemistry, and Extraordinary Chemistry of Everyday Life, to name a few. In addition to these courses, the College routinely offers General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry to provide a foundation in the theories central to this discipline.

Just as experimentation played a fundamental role in the formulation of the theories of chemistry, experimentation plays an integral part in learning them. Therefore, laboratory experiments complement many of the seminar courses.

2018-2019 Courses

Chemistry

General Chemistry I

Open , Lecture—Fall

Chemistry is the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter. Chemistry is central to the production of the materials required for modern life; for example, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides required to feed an ever-growing population, and the development of efficient and environmentally-benign energy sources. This course provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts of modern chemistry. We will begin by examining the structure and properties of atoms, which are the building blocks of the elements and the simplest substances in the material world around us. We will then explore how atoms of different elements can bond with each other to form an infinite variety of more complex substances called compounds. This will lead us to an investigation of several classes of chemical reactions, the processes by which substances are transformed into new materials with different physical properties. Along the way, we will learn how and why the three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) differ from one another and how energy may be either produced or consumed by chemical reactions. In weekly laboratory sessions, we will perform experiments to illustrate and test the theories presented in the lecture part of the course. These experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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General Chemistry II

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of General Chemistry I. We will begin with a detailed study of both the physical and chemical properties of solutions. This will enable us to consider the factors that affect both the rates and direction of chemical reactions. We will then investigate the properties of acids and bases and the role that electricity plays in chemistry. The course will conclude with introductions to nuclear chemistry and organic chemistry. Weekly laboratory sessions will allow us to demonstrate and test the theories described in the lecture segment of the course.

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Organic Chemistry I: A Guided Inquiry Seminar

Open , Seminar—Fall

No prior knowledge of chemistry is required. Students will be able to take this course and Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry) in the spring semester and then take General Chemistry or other chemistry courses in subsequent years.

Research has shown that students learn much more effectively when they are actively engaged and when ideas and concepts are developed by the students themselves rather than simply being presented by a professor or read in a textbook. This course is designed as a series of interactive Guided Inquiry exercises. During each seminar, you will be presented with data and important observations regarding the topic being studied. The class will work in small groups to answer a series of directed questions designed to lead each student toward the development of a target concept or idea. These classroom activities are designed to follow the scientific process as much as possible. You will be asked to make predictions based on the model that has been developed by the class. Further data or information will then be provided that can be used to check your predictions. In this way, you will simultaneously learn both the course content and the key critical thinking skills that constitute scientific thought and exploration. After each topic has been developed in class, you will be asked to read the relevant section of the textbook and then answer a series of problems to reinforce your understanding of the material. You should consider taking this course if you enjoy highly interactive seminars, working in small groups, and figuring out problems yourself rather than simply listening to a professor while taking notes in class. Organic chemistry is the study of chemical compounds whose molecules are based on a framework of carbon atoms, typically in combination with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Despite this rather limited set of elements, there are more organic compounds known than there are compounds that do not contain carbon. Adding to the importance of organic chemistry is the fact that very many of the chemical compounds that make modern life possible—such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, pigments, and dyes—can be classed as organic. Organic chemistry, therefore, impacts many other scientific subjects; and knowledge of organic chemistry is essential for a detailed understanding of materials science, environmental science, molecular biology, and medicine. This course gives an overview of the structures, physical properties, and reactivity of organic compounds. We will see that organic compounds can be classified into families of similar compounds based upon certain groups of atoms that always behave in a similar manner no matter what molecule they are in. These functional groups will enable us to rationalize the vast number of reactions that organic re-agents undergo. Topics covered in this course include: the types of bonding within organic molecules; fundamental concepts of organic reaction mechanisms (nucleophilic substitution, elimination, and electrophilic addition); the conformations and configurations of organic molecules; and the physical and chemical properties of alkanes, halogenoalkanes, alkenes, alkynes, and alcohols. In the laboratory section of the course, we will develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences. In addition, the Guided Inquiry exercises will sharpen your analytical skills and teach you how to think like a scientist. Your experiences working as part of a team in this course will help you in future situations where the ability to collaborate to solve problems is a critical measure of success.

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Atoms, Molecules, and Reactions: An Introduction to Physical Chemistry

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will think about the most fundamental question in chemistry: Why do chemical reactions happen? To answer this, we will first discuss the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which determines whether any change in the universe can occur. Before we can apply the Second Law of Thermodynamics to chemical systems, we will need to investigate the structure of atoms and the ways in which individual atoms can bond to one another to form molecular structures of increasing complexity. Once we have mastered the modern, quantum mechanical theories of chemical bonding, we will be able to look at different types of chemical reactions, their rates, and the ways in which chemical equilibria may be established and influenced. In the laboratory section of the course, we will put these ideas into practice: building molecules with different structures and then exploring their physical properties and chemical reactivity. Chemistry plays a pivotal role in all the natural sciences. Accordingly, this course will be useful for any students with an interest in the physical, biological, and medicinal sciences and for pre-engineering students.

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Nutrition

Open , Seminar—Fall

Nutrition is the sum of all interactions between ourselves and the food that we consume. The study of nutrition includes the nature and general role of nutrients in forming structural material, providing energy, and helping to regulate metabolism. How do food chemists synthesize the fat that can’t be digested? Can this kind of fat satisfy our innate appetite for fats? Are there unwanted side effects, and why? What constitutes a healthy diet? What are the consequences of severely restricted food intake seen in a prevalent emotional disorder such as anorexia or bulimia? These and other questions will be discussed. We will also discuss the effect of development, pregnancy, emotional state, and disease on nutritional requirements. And we will consider the effects of food production and processing on nutrition value and food safety.

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Inorganic Chemistry

Open , Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will investigate the properties of the chemical elements and some of their most important compounds. In so doing, we will discover the trends in structure, bonding, and reactivity that emerge as we move from one element to the next in the periodic table. Included in our survey will be discussions of the important roles that inorganic substances play in our everyday lives, particularly in the fields of bioinorganic chemistry, industrial materials, and nanotechnology. In the laboratory section of the course, we will prepare important examples of inorganic compounds and then investigate their reactivity. This will involve learning how to work with highly reactive and air-sensitive materials using vacuum-line and glove-box techniques. Chemistry plays a pivotal role in all of the natural sciences. Accordingly, this course will be useful for any students with an interest in the physical, biological, and medicinal sciences and for pre-engineering students.

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Organic Chemistry II: A Guided Inquiry Seminar

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Organic Chemistry I.

This course is a continuation of Organic Chemistry I: A Guided Inquiry Seminar. This semester, we will explore the physical and chemical properties of additional families of organic molecules. The reactivity of aromatic compounds, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids and their derivatives (acid chlorides, acid anhydrides, esters, and amides), enols and enolates, and amines will all be discussed. We will also investigate the methods by which large, complicated molecules can be synthesized from simple starting materials. Modern methods of organic structural determination—such as mass spectrometry, 1 H and 13 C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy—will also be introduced. In the laboratory section of this course, we will continue to develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry II is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Biochemistry

Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: Organic Chemistry and General Biology.

Biochemistry is the chemistry of biological systems. This course will introduce students to the basic principles and concepts of biochemistry. Topics will include the structure and function of biomolecules such as amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids, RNA, DNA, and bioenergetics. This knowledge will then be used to study the pathways of metabolism.

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open , Lecture—Fall

Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. Finally, we conclude the semester by examining how these principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and process by which such advances in biological understanding are made. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Biology of Cancer

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Cancer is likely the most feared and notorious of human diseases, being devastating in both its scope and its prognosis. Cancer has been described as an alien invader inside one’s own body, characterized by its insidious spread and devious ability to resist countermeasures. Cancer’s legendary status is rightfully earned, accounting for 13% of all human deaths worldwide and killing an estimated eight million people annually. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer”; since then, more than $200 billion has been spent on cancer research. While clinical success has been modest, tremendous insights have been generated in understanding the cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms of this disease. In this course, we will explore the field of cancer biology, covering topics such as tumor viruses, cellular oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, cell immortalization, multistep tumorigenesis, cancer development and metastasis, and the treatment of cancer. In addition, we will discuss new advances in cancer research and draw from recent articles in the published literature.

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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisites: the minimum required preparation for study of the calculus is successful completion of study in trigonometry and precalculus topics. Students concerned about meeting the course prerequisites are encouraged to contact the instructor as soon as possible. This course is also being offered in the spring semester of this academic year.

Our existence lies in a perpetual state of change. An apple falls from a tree; clouds move across expansive farmland, blocking out the sun for days; meanwhile, satellites zip around the Earth transmitting and receiving signals to our cell phones. The calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe and study the motion and change happening around us. The Ancient Greeks began a detailed study of change but were scared to wrestle with the infinite; so it was not until the 17th century that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, among others, tamed the infinite and gave birth to this extremely successful branch of mathematics. Though just a few hundred years old, the calculus has become an indispensable research tool in both the natural and social sciences. Our study begins with the central concept of the limit and proceeds to explore the dual processes of differentiation and integration. Numerous applications of the theory will be examined. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: one year of high-school calculus or one semester of college-level calculus. Students concerned about meeting the course prerequisites are encouraged to contact the instructor as soon as possible. This course is also being offered in the fall semester of this academic year.

This course continues the thread of mathematical inquiry following an initial study of the dual topics of differentiation and integration (see Calculus I course description). Topics to be explored in this course include the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions, applications of integration theory to geometry, alternative coordinate systems, infinite series, and power series representations of functions. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind. The theory of limits, differentiation, and integration will be briefly reviewed at the beginning of the term.

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Introduction to Mechanics (General Physics Without Calculus)

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course or equivalent is required to take Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus) in the spring.

This course covers introductory classical mechanics, including dynamics, kinematics, momentum, energy, and gravity. Students considering careers in architecture or the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion, exploratory activities, and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required.

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The Quantum World

Open , Seminar—Fall

Quantum physics revolutionized our understanding of the physical world almost a century ago, and today concepts from it (“Schroedinger’s cat,” “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,” “parallel universes,” “entanglement”) can be found all over popular culture—often in confused and distorted ways. In this open course, we will explore the true meaning of quantum theory in a way that does not require physics or mathematics prerequisites. The course will cover the historical process that led to the development of quantum physics, the conceptual meaning of the theory, the ways it is applied in modern physics and technology, and the ongoing philosophical debates about its implications for the nature of reality.

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Introduction to Electromagnetism, Light, and Modern Physics (General Physics Without Calculus)

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Calculus is not a requirement for this course. Students should have had at least one semester of physics (mechanics).

This course covers electromagnetism and optics, as well as selected topics in modern physics. Students considering careers in the health sciences, as well as those interested in physics for physics’ sake, should take either this course or Classical Mechanics. Emphasis will be placed on scientific skills, including problem-solving, development of physical intuition, scientific communication, use of technology, and development and execution of experiments. Seminars will incorporate discussion and exploratory and problem-solving activities. In addition, the class will meet weekly to conduct laboratory work. A background in calculus is not required.

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Quantum Mechanics

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisites: Students must have completed one year of calculus, as well as one year of general physics.

Quantum mechanics, which describes physics at small scales, requires an entirely different set of principles, concepts, and mathematical techniques than the classical physics covered in introductory courses. In this course, we will introduce the basic principles of quantum theory and discuss their applications in atomic and subatomic physics—including, among others, the meaning and computation of particle wave functions, the energy levels of atoms, and the properties of quantum angular momentum (spin). This is an intermediate course recommended for students interested in pursuing physics, physical chemistry, or engineering.

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Eco-Poetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the Earth—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder and to utterly contemporary poets such as Brenda Hillman and Chase Twitchell. We will also read books and articles that teach us about the physical world. We will wonder how eco-poetry is different from nature poetry. We will practice one and then the other. Each student will research an aspect of the natural world and incorporate that knowledge into documentary poems. Each student will present his/her knowledge and poems to the class community as a conference project each semester. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the earth, the air? How can poetry address the ecological crisis? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world—to pay attention and to write poetry that matters—beyond the individual self. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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