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.

2019-2020 Courses

Chemistry

General Chemistry I: An Introduction to Chemistry and Biochemistry

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course is the first part of a two-semester sequence that provides a broad foundation for the scientific discipline of chemistry, introducing its fundamental principles and techniques and demonstrating the central role of chemistry in biology and medicine. We first look at basic descriptions of elemental properties, the periodic table, solid and molecular structures, and chemical bonding. We then relate these topics to the electronic structure of atoms. The mole as a unit is introduced so that a quantitative treatment of stoichiometry can be considered. After this introduction, we go on to consider physical chemistry, which provides the basis for a quantitative understanding of (i) the kinetic theory of gases (which is developed to consider the nature of liquids and solids); (ii) equilibria and the concepts of the equilibrium constant and of pH; (iii) energy changes in chemical reactions and the fundamental principles of thermodynamics; (iv) the rates of chemical reactions and the concepts of the rate-determining step and activation energy. Practical work in the laboratory periods of this course introduces the use and handling of basic chemical equipment and illustrates the behavior of simple chemical substances. In addition to the two regular class meetings and laboratory session each week, there will be an hour-long weekly group conference. This lecture course will be of interest to students interested in the study of chemistry or biology and to those planning on a career in medicine and related health.

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General Chemistry II: An Introduction to Chemistry and Biochemistry

Intermediate , Lecture—Spring

Prerequisite: General Chemistry I or permission of the instructor.

This course is the second part of a two-semester sequence that provides a broad foundation for the scientific discipline of chemistry, introducing its fundamental principles and techniques and demonstrating the central role of chemistry in biology and medicine. The course begins with a review of the important concepts discussed in General Chemistry I. The main types of organic compounds are then introduced by reference to simple systems and to specific compounds of industrial, biological, and medical importance. The more important reactions of each of these types are described and explained in terms of the structure of the functional groups involved. We go on to explore the chemical basis of life, the essential molecular components of biological cells, and the essential chemical processes that occur within them. The biological roles of amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids are introduced. Practical work in the laboratory periods of this course introduces important chemical reactions and common methods of chemical detection and identification. In addition to the two regular class meetings and laboratory session each week, there will be an hour-long weekly group conference. This lecture course will be of interest to students interested in the study of chemistry or biology and to those planning on a career in medicine and related health.

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The Chemistry of Everyday Life

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course examines the chemistry of our everyday life—the way things work. The emphasis of this course is on understanding the everyday use of chemistry. We will introduce chemistry concepts using everyday examples, such as household chemicals and gasoline, that illustrate how we already use chemistry and reveal why chemistry is important to us. We will concentrate on topics of current interest, such as environmental pollution and the substances that we use in our daily lives that affect our environment and ourselves.

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Nutrition

Open , Seminar—Spring

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 and bulimia? These and other questions will be discussed. We will discuss the effects of development, pregnancy, emotional state, and disease on nutritional requirements. We will also consider the effects of food production and processing on nutritional value and food safety.

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Spectroscopy and Chemical Structure Determination

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: one semester of General Chemistry or General Physics.

Every time a chemist conducts a reaction or isolates a compound, his or her first task is to identify the molecular structure of what has been made or isolated. To help do this, chemists have a powerful array of modern instrumental techniques that are used to quickly and accurately determine the structures of compounds. One of the most challenging (and entertaining!) parts of chemistry is to use the information obtained from these techniques to assign structures to unknown compounds (a bit like Sherlock Holmes using clues to solve a murder mystery). In this course, we focus on the three most widely used techniques: mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. All of these techniques provide valuable information about the structures of molecules, and all are used on a day-to-day basis by most chemists. In the laboratory, we will gain hands-on experience in a variety of one- and two-dimensional NMR techniques and infrared spectroscopy. Once we have a sound understanding of each of those techniques, we will become chemical detectives and use the information that the techniques provide to solve chemical puzzles in order to elucidate the identities and structures of unknown molecules.

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Organic Chemistry I

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: General Chemistry or its equivalent.

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 known organic compounds 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.

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Organic Chemistry II

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Organic Chemistry I

In this course, 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 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, 1H and 13C 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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Organic Chemistry III: An Introduction to Organic Synthesis

Advanced , Small seminar—Spring

Prerequisite: Two semesters of Organic Chemistry.   

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 those 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 an important pharmaceutical compound.

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Biochemistry

Advanced , Small seminar—Spring

This is a 3-credit small seminar. Prerequisite: Two semesters of Organic Chemistry.

This course is concerned with the chemical basis of biology. We will begin by examining the structure and function of the main classes of biologically important molecules: amino acids, peptides, and proteins; carbohydrates; and lipids. We will then look at enzyme activity, including the mechanisms, kinetics, and regulation of enzyme-mediated reactions. This will be followed by an overview of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and their role within eukaryotic cells. The study of biological membranes will then lead to an investigation of bioenergetics and metabolic processes within cells. In place of individual conference work, the class will work as a group through representative MCAT questions relating to the topics covered in the course.

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Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications

Advanced , Seminar—Spring

In pre-college mathematics courses, we learned the basic methodology and notions of algebra. We appointed letters of the alphabet to abstractly represent unknown or unspecified quantities. We discovered how to translate real-world (and often complicated) problems into simple equations whose solutions, if they could be found, held the key to greater understanding. But algebra does not end there. Abstract algebra examines sets of objects (numbers, matrices, polynomials, functions, ideas) and operations on these sets. The approach is typically axiomatic: One assumes a small number of basic properties, or axioms, and attempts to deduce all other properties of the mathematical system from these. Such abstraction allows us to study, simultaneously, all structures satisfying a given set of axioms and to recognize both their commonalties and their differences. Specific topics to be covered include groups, actions, isomorphism, symmetry, permutations, rings, fields, and applications of these algebraic structures to questions outside of mathematics.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, 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, and 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. Conference work, 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 graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisites: successful completion of trigonometry and precalculus courses. Students concerned about meeting the prerequisites should contact the instructor. This course is also offered in the spring semester.

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. 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, 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 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

Prerequisite: one year of high-school calculus or one semester of college-level calculus. Students concerned about meeting the prerequisite should contact the instructor. This course is also offered in the fall semester.

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 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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Exploring the Universe: Astronomy and Cosmology

Open , Lecture—Year

This yearlong course will provide a broad introduction to our current knowledge of the universe without requiring previous background in college-level science and math. Topics covered will include the history of our understanding of the universe; our current knowledge of the solar system, including the Sun, planets, moons, asteroids, and comets; the nature, life cycle, and properties of stars, as well as neutron stars and black holes; the possibility of extraterrestrial life; our knowledge of distant galaxies; and the description of the universe as a whole, its development from the Big Bang, and the unresolved questions concerning its origin and ultimate fate. Classes will incorporate discussions and some problem-solving activities. The course will also include occasional evening meetings for telescope observations.

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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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Electromagnetism and Light (Calculus-Based General Physics)

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Students are encouraged to have completed Classical Mechanics, or equivalent, along with Calculus II, or equivalent.

This is the follow-on course to Classical Mechanics, where we will be covering 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. Seminars and weekly laboratory meetings will incorporate technology-based, exploratory, and problem-solving activities.

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Resonance and Its Applications

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

This is a lab-based course designed to teach students critical advanced laboratory skills while exploring the fascinating phenomenon of resonance and its many applications. The course will be broken into three main units: mechanical resonators, electronic resonators, and quantum mechanical resonators. Resonators are physical systems that undergo periodic motion and react quite dramatically to being driven at particular frequencies (like the opera singer hitting just the right note to break a wine glass). These systems are very common in everyday life, as well as inside many important technological devices. Each unit will explore a particular application of resonance (e.g., building an AM radio receiver for electronic resonance and using our benchtop NMR system to explore quantum mechanical resonance). Although some class time will be spent going over the relevant theory, the majority of the class time will be spent designing and doing experiments using advanced lab equipment, analyzing data using Jupyter (iPython) notebooks, and reporting the results using LaTeX. For conference work, students are encouraged to develop their own experimental question, design their own experiment to answer that question, do the experiment, analyze the data, and present their findings at the Science and Mathematics Poster Session.

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First-Year Studies: Ecopoetry: Poetry in Relation to the Living World

Open , FYS—Year

Poetry is the human song called out: in joy, in love, in fear, in wonder, in prayer, in rebuke, in war, in peace, in story, and in vision. The human poem collects us together, individuates us, and consoles us. We read poems at funerals, at weddings, graduations...they accompany us through the gates of our lives, in public, or in private...shared through a book, a computer, a letter, a song. Now we find ourselves at the brink of an unstoppable ecological disaster. A change of consciousness is necessary. How can poetry accomplish this? For a long time, we have not noticed how our civilizations and technologies have affected the rest of the living world. This course will ask questions: Who do we think we are? Who taught us that? Who are we in relation to the other animals? To trees and plants? To insects? To stars? How have our human myths informed those relationships? How are those myths evident in our human world today? What is poetry? What is ecopoetry? How can poetry instruct? How can poetry document? How can poetry re-vision? Prophesy? Protest? Preserve? Imagine? In our time together, you will read poetry written by published poets. You will write your own poems, one each week, and share them with each other. You will keep observation journals, meet with another person in our class each week in a poetry date, and meet with me in individual and small-group conferences. We will proceed as curious learners and writers. Through our close study, each of you (in conference work and together) will learn about a very specific aspect of the natural world that interests you (an animal, a forest, a coral reef, etc.) and then teach the rest of us in class what you have learned. We will learn how to write poems about these subjects so that the poem itself becomes an experience we have never had before. And we might slowly move away from the human as the center of the poem and welcome the rest of the living world in. We will know more at the end of this class about the other animals and plants and insects and rivers and oceans. If our hearts break with this deepening relationship, we might also discover a great joy and a new responsibility. We will want to share what we have learned and written with the wider community. We will find ways to do that. I can assure you, we will be changed. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

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