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.

Chemistry 2022-2023 Courses

Elemental Epics: Stories of Love, War, Madness, and Murder From the Periodic Table of the Elements

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

The periodic table displays the chemical elements according to the structure of their atoms and, consequently, their chemical properties. The periodic table also represents a treasure trove of fascinating stories that span both natural and human history. Many of the elements on the table have influenced key historical events and shaped individual lives. In this course, we will tour the periodic table and learn how the stories of the discovery and investigation of the elements fuse science with human drama—from murders to cures for deadly diseases and from new technologies to the fall of civilizations.

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Organic Chemistry I (Guided Inquiry)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

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 reagents 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 conducted in class will sharpen your analytical skills, and teach you how to think like a scientist.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

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 instance, 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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Organic Chemistry II (Guided Inquiry)

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

This course is a continuation of Organic Chemistry I (Guided Inquiry). During this semester, we will explore the physical and chemical properties of additional families of organic molecules. The reactivity of 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, proton and carbon-13 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 (Guided Inquiry) 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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General Chemistry II

Intermediate, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

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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Resonance Research and Spectroscopy Seminar

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has played a huge role in science since the mid-20th century, garnering five Nobel prizes across chemistry, physics, and medicine. Today, NMR remains a crucial analytical and diagnostic tool in these scientific disciplines. Fortunately, the recent development of inexpensive benchtop NMR spectrometers provides new opportunities for undergraduate students to gain hands-on learning and research skills related to this highly applicable technique. This lab-based course has been co-developed and will be co-taught by experimental physicist Merideth Frey and physical chemist Colin Abernethy, so students can learn the science and applications of NMR while developing experimental research skills using Sarah Lawrence’s benchtop NMR spectrometers. This yearlong, lab-based course will cover the theory, practice, and applications of NMR in a truly multidisciplinary way—linking the physics behind these techniques with their applications in chemistry, medicine, quantum information science, and beyond. In addition to work done as a class, students will undertake individual projects that will involve designing and performing their own research projects utilizing the benchtop NMR spectrometers. At the end of the year, students will be given the opportunity to present particularly successful projects as posters or talks at regional or national scientific meetings; this work may also be featured in the supplemental course material posted online.

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Environmental Chemistry

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course provides an introduction to basic concepts of chemistry and their application to current environmental issues. Topics include acid rain, ozone depletion, air pollution, climate change (global warming), surface water and groundwater pollution, and plastics and polymers. We will then consider how human activities such as transportation, energy production, and chemical industries influence the environment.

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Organic Chemistry III

Advanced, Small seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This advanced course is a continuation of the study of Organic Chemistry beyond the topics studied in Organic Chemistry I & II. We will commence the semester by investigating the exceptional stability of aromatic molecules and their main modes of reaction: Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution and Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution. We will then look at the ways in which organic molecules can rearrange and fragment during reactions. Once these topics have been mastered, we will be able to learn the principles of Retrosynthetic Analysis, the method used to devise efficient strategies for the synthesis of complex organic molecules. Conference work for this course will be the development of a synthetic route to prepare a pharmaceutically important compound.

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Biochemistry

Advanced, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Biochemistry is the chemistry of biological systems. This course will introduce students to the important principles and concepts of biochemistry. Topics will include the structure and functions 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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Biology of Cancer

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Cancer is likely the most feared and most 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 percent 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 have 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. Readings will also include Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies.

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Genetics

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior; therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure and the molecular functions of genes and DNA— and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Trisomy 21, hemophilia, or others. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior or traits such as intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Virology

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Viruses are some of the smallest biological entities found in nature—yet, at the same time, perhaps the most notorious. Having no independent metabolic activity of their own, they function as intracellular parasites depending entirely on infecting and interacting with the cells of a host organism to produce new copies of themselves. The effects on the host organism can be catastrophic, leading to disease and death. HIV has killed more than 18-million people since its identification and infected twice that number. Ebola, West Nile, herpes, and pox viruses are all well-known yet shrouded in fear and mystery. During the course of this semester, we will examine the biology of viruses by discussing: their physical and genetic properties; their interaction with host cells; their ability to commandeer the cellular machinery for their own reproductive needs; the effects of viral infection on host cells; and, finally, how viruses and other subviral entities may have originated and evolved. In addition, we will examine how viruses have been discussed in the primary research literature and other media, with readings drawn from Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and others.

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Watersheds

Open, Seminar—Year

A watershed is an area of land (and the soils that underlie it) that drains to a common outlet. But this simple concept provides a critically important framework for understanding our most important water-management issues, along with many processes in environmental science and ecology. Watersheds can be defined across a range of spatial scales—from a suburban parking lot to the drainage basin of the Amazon River—and their diverse forms and characteristic represent a variety of climates, land uses, and topographies. In this course, we’ll learn how watersheds are delineated and explore the flow of water through watersheds, covering topics such as precipitation, evapotranspiration, infiltration, stream and river networks, and groundwater flow. During the second semester of the course, we’ll build on this foundation to study topics in watershed management, including water infrastructure, urbanization, interbasin transfers, flooding, water quality, and the impacts of global climate change. The course will include a weekly lab session, with indoor data-analysis activities along with field visits to sites in the Hudson River and Bronx River watersheds. No prior experience in earth or environmental science is required; however, students should be prepared to draw on the math skills they learned in high school for the water analyses that we’ll perform in this course.

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Pollution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

The pollution of our air, water, and soils is responsible for millions of deaths across the globe each year, along with immeasurable harm to natural ecosystems. In this seminar, we will study the chemistry of environmental pollutants that are most salient today—including lead, soot, pesticides, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sewage, nutrients, and greenhouse gases—and learn about how their chemistry influences their fate and their transport through the environment and, in turn, their impacts on human health and natural ecosystems. We will also study basic techniques of pollutant monitoring and strategies to remediate different types of pollution and restore healthy ecosystems and communities. Beyond this, we will explore the broader concept of pollution, considering how compounds that can be vital to our survival can also harm our environment, as well as how thresholds for when a compound becomes a “pollutant” are determined. Course work will include both chemistry problem-sets and diverse readings about historic and current pollution issues. Conference work will allow students to develop a case study of a pollution incident or ongoing pollution hazard.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error—you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Electromagnetism & Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

Calculus-based general physics is a standard course at most institutions; as such, this course will prepare you for more advanced work in the physical science, engineering, or health fields. This course will cover waves, geometric and wave optics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, and electrodynamics. We will use the exploration of the particle and wave properties of light to bookend our discussions and ultimately finish our exploration of classical physics with the hints of its incompleteness. 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. The best way to develop scientific skills is to practice the scientific process. We will focus on learning physics through discovering, testing, analyzing, and applying fundamental physics concepts in an interactive classroom, as well as in weekly laboratory meetings.

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Resonance Research and Spectroscopy Seminar

Open, Seminar—Year

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has played a huge role in science since the mid-20th century, garnering five Nobel prizes across chemistry, physics, and medicine. Today, NMR remains a crucial analytical and diagnostic tool in these scientific disciplines. Fortunately, the recent development of inexpensive benchtop NMR spectrometers provides new opportunities for undergraduate students to gain hands-on learning and research skills related to this highly applicable technique. This yearlong, lab-based course has been co-developed and will be co-taught by experimental physicist Merideth Frey and physical chemist Colin Abernethy, so students can learn the science and applications of NMR while developing experimental research skills using Sarah Lawrence’s benchtop NMR spectrometers. The course will cover the theory, practice, and applications of NMR in a truly multidisciplinary way—linking the physics behind these techniques with their applications in chemistry, medicine, quantum information science, and beyond. In addition to work done as a class, students will undertake individual projects that will involve designing and performing their own research projects utilizing the benchtop NMR spectrometers. At the end of the year, students will be given the opportunity to present particularly successful projects as posters or talks at regional or national scientific meetings; this work may also be featured in the supplemental course material posted online.

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Quantum Mechanics

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

There are three kinds of people: those who understand quantum mechanics; those who do not understand quantum mechanics; and those who both simultaneously understand and do not understand quantum mechanics. This course will provide an introduction to the theoretical foundations of quantum mechanics. Topics will include: the classical physics paradigm, quantum state vectors, quantum operators and observables, commutator relations, the Schrödinger equation and time-evolution, the quantum harmonic potential, the quantum Coulomb potential and the hydrogen atom, angular momentum and spin, and the Feynman path integral formalism. No cats will be harmed. Familiarity with introductory physics, complex numbers, vectors, dot and cross products, and matrices is useful but not required.

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