Aug 25, 2019  
Course Catalog 2014-2015 
Course Catalog 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Chemistry and Biochemistry

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Rebecca J. Whelan, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Department Chair
Jason M. Belitsky, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Matthew J. Elrod, Professor of Chemistry
Cortland S. Hill, Lecturer in Chemistry; Laboratory Instructor and Manager
Albert R. Matlin, Donald R. Longman Professor of Chemistry
Manish A. Mehta, Professor of Chemistry
Michael W. Nee, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Catherine M. Oertel, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Lisa M. Ryno, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Jesse L.C. Rowsell, Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Robert Q. Thompson, Professor of Chemistry 

Modern chemistry is an interdisciplinary subject with roots in physics and mathematics and with applications in biology, geology, neuroscience, environmental science, and a wide range of technology. Biochemistry integrates chemical principles with modern molecular biology.  Biochemistry courses provide students with the tools to study the chemistry of life and biology in atomic detail. The courses for chemistry and biochemistry majors are designed to emphasize the fundamental principles of the science and their application to observed phenomena. These courses develop chemical reasoning and experimental skills, reflect chemistry’s and biochemistry’s interdisciplinary nature, and prepare students for success in graduate or professional programs.

Chemistry and biochemistry are experimental sciences. Graduate study in chemistry and biochemistry is centered on the research thesis, and most chemists/biochemists engage in research themselves or make use of the results of research. Physicians and others who use chemical material should have some experience in research in order to evaluate the results of research. Accordingly, opportunities are provided, and students are strongly encouraged to gain research experience through an in-term research project, summer research, a Winter Term project, or a combination of these.

A major in chemistry or biochemistry can lead to a variety of careers besides chemical or biochemical research. Among these are medicine, teaching, patent law, business, and interdisciplinary sciences such as molecular biology, environmental science, pharmacology, toxicology, materials science, geochemistry, and chemical physics.


ACS Approved.

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is approved by the American Chemical Society and certifies graduates who satisfy the ACS guidelines. For certification, chemistry majors must take, in addition to the minimum major requirements: Chemistry 254, and one course equivalent of research (Chemistry 525-526). For certification, biochemistry majors must take, in addition to the minimum major requirements, one course equivalent of any combination of any 300 level or above Chemistry courses and one course equivalent of research (Chemistry 525-526).


Advanced Placement.

Entering students who have scored 4 or 5 on the Chemistry Advanced Placement (AP) examination of the Educational Testing Service or scored 6 or 7 on the Higher Level International Baccalaureate (IB) Chemistry exam can receive transfer credit equivalent to Chemistry 101 (one full course) and begin college chemistry with 102 or 103. Students will have to relinquish AP or IB credit if the corresponding coursework is repeated at Oberlin.

Students with A-levels scores of A*, A, or B can begin college chemistry with 103.

Students with exceptional high school preparation in mathematics and chemistry, and either an AP score of 4 or 5 or an IB higher-level chemistry exam score of 6 or 7 may petition the department chair to enroll in Chemistry 205, Organic Chemistry.  Upon successful completion (C- or better) of 205, the student would also receive credit for103 instead of 101.


Entry-Level Course Sequence Suggestions.

Most students who major in a science and most premedical students begin their study of college chemistry in the first year with Chemistry 101, 102 which are open also to other students who want a thorough introduction to the subject. Students with very good preparation in chemistry and advanced placement (see section above) or an acceptable score on the chemistry placement exam (offered during orientation in the fall) may enroll in Chemistry 103, a one-semester course that takes the place of 101, 102. For further details, please refer to the full course description for 103. Exceptionally prepared students may start with Chemistry 205, Organic Chemistry (see section above). Chemistry 045, 050, and 051 are courses of general interest, which do not presume any prior knowledge of chemistry, and are aimed at non-science majors. Chemistry 045, 050, and 051 may serve as a bridge to 101 for students who have not had high-school chemistry.

Students who are considering a major in either chemistry or biochemistry should consult the Majors Handbook ( for detailed information on planning an appropriate sequence of courses. All potential majors are strongly advised to complete 101, 102 (or 103) and at least Mathematics 133 in the first year. Potential chemistry majors should take Physics 110, 111 (or 103, 104) in the sophomore year and should complete Mathematics 134 by the end of the sophomore year. Potential biochemistry majors should take Biology 100/101 or 102 no later than the sophomore year and should complete the mathematics and physics requirements as early as possible.

All majors should take careful note of prerequisites for later courses. For example, physical chemistry depends upon prior work in mathematics and physics as well as a background in general chemistry. Majors who plan to take advanced courses in chemistry or in other sciences, including research courses, find their senior-year schedules most manageable if they take physical chemistry in the junior year.


The Chemistry and Biochemistry Department offers two majors, chemistry and biochemistry.

Chemistry. The minimum major in chemistry requires Chemistry 101, 102 (103 may replace101, 102), 205, 211, 213, and 339. An additional 2.5 courses or their equivalent from the following list are required, including at least 0.5 course from each of Categories I and II, and one advanced laboratory course (327, 341, or 349). Category I: 254, 325, 327, 405; Category II: 323, 341, 349, 361. The major also requires Mathematics 134 and Physics 110, 111 (or 103, 104). Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major, with the exception that one chemistry course in which a student has earned a grade of D may be used to fill the requirements of the major. No courses in which a student has earned a D grade maybe counted as prerequisites.

Biochemistry. The minimum major in biochemistry requires Chemistry 101, 102 (103 may replace 101, 102), 205, 211, 213, 254, (339 or 349), and 374; Biology 213; Mathematics 134; Physics 110, 111 (or 103, 104). Students may not count toward the major more than one chemistry course in which they received a D.  No D grades may be counted towards courses used as prerequisites.

The minimum major in chemistry or biochemistry will prepare students for graduate study. However, the best preparation for competitive graduate programs involves additional advanced courses and laboratory work, related courses in other departments, and research experience. The latter may be accomplished through a summer research experience, a semester or two of research (Chemistry 525, 526), or an on-campus or off-campus Winter Term project. Chemistry 525 and 526 may only be taken P/NP. In the course of fulfilling the biochemistry major, students also simultaneously complete all science coursework typically required by medical schools.

Chemistry and biochemistry majors are encouraged to take additional mathematics courses such as multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and statistics. Majors planning to pursue graduate studies in biochemistry or molecular biology should consider upper level biology courses such as immunology and microbiology. The specific courses chosen will depend in part on the intended area of specialization.

Each semester the department sponsors a program of Wednesday afternoon research seminars by visiting chemists and biochemists. Majors are expected to attend.


Majors in other departments or programs (but not chemistry or biochemistry majors) may earn a minor in chemistry by completing general chemistry (101 and 102, or 103) and at least 2.5 courses or their equivalent from chemistry courses at the 200 through 400 level. Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the minor. Two of the elective courses must be taken at Oberlin. A formal chemistry minor may be helpful to non-chemistry majors seeking entry-level jobs in chemical industry, secondary-school teaching, or science journalism, as well as those students who plan further education in technological aspects of law, art, or other disciplines.


Students with outstanding records are invited to participate in the Honors Program. Seniors in the program elect a minimum of 1.5 full courses of Chemistry 525-526 (with at least one half course in the first semester) and work year-long (including Winter Term) on a research project. Honors students write a thesis based on their research and take an oral examination. Further details may be found in the Majors Handbook.


Related Programs

Pre-Medical. Pre-medical students planning to major in chemistry or biochemistry should arrange a conference with the campus pre-medical advisor no later than their fourth semester. See the pre-medical statement earlier in this catalog.

3-2 Engineering. Students who are interested in a career in chemical engineering should consider the Combined Liberal Arts and Engineering Program. This five-year program is described in this catalog under the heading Engineering. The department chair can provide advice on courses that lead to both the Combined Program and a chemistry major.  Students interested in academic careers in chemical engineering should discuss appropriate undergraduate schedules with the chair.

Transfer of Credit

Prior approval is required for chemistry course work taken away from Oberlin. Without explicit approval from the Chemistry  and Biochemistry Department, no major may complete more than half of the full courses (or equivalent) required for the major while away from Oberlin. Normally, transfer credit for chemistry courses numbered 300 and above will not count toward the requirements of chemistry or biochemistry majors. The detailed procedure and required forms for the transfer of credit process can be found at under the Transfer of Credit link.

Winter Term

Each chemistry faculty member is willing to sponsor Winter Term projects as indicated.  J. Belitsky: Laboratory projects in bioorganic chemistry. M. Elrod: Laboratory projects in atmospheric chemistry. C. Hill: Laboratory projects in general chemistry. Off campus projects involving experience in social service, medical research (UNC Chapel Hill), fire ant research (Florida), and environmental remediation (Florida). A. Matlin: Laboratory projects in organic chemistry. Readings in the history and philosophy of science. M. Mehta: Laboratory projects in biophysical chemistry. M. Nee: Laboratory projects in organic chemistry. C. Oertel: Laboratory projects in experimental inorganic chemistry. J. Rowsell: Laboratory projects in experimental inorganic chemistry. R. Thompson: Laboratory and reading projects dealing with chemical analysis and forensic science, beginning chess. R. Whelan: Laboratory projects in bioanalytical chemistry.

First-Year Seminar

Other Advanced Courses

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