Chemistry

Chemistry majors explore the nature and composition of matter and the laws that govern chemical reactions and apply these principals to solve a range of problems. Whitman's hands-on policy allows extensive use of our instruments, beginning in your first year with experiments involving pH meters, analytical balances, visible spectrophotometers, and, in some cases, atomic absorption spectroscopy and gas chromatography.

Since we strongly emphasize undergraduate research at Whitman, you will have ample opportunity to apply your scientific knowledge in much the same way as professional chemists. Students in the Chemistry Department recently conducted research on the treatment of wastewater effluents, environmental impacts of dredging, hydrogen fuel cells, polymer preparations, and the biochemistry of tumor cells. Collaboration with faculty members on research may result in publication in professional journals.

The department offers a range of courses which illustrate the development and use of various scientific models and experimental methods, as well as exploring the role of chemistry in the study of other sciences. You will find that some department courses, such as Introduction to Environmental Chemistry, explore the role of chemistry in everyday life, emphasizing ways in which basic chemical principles apply to an understanding of such contemporary concerns as radioactivity, acid rain, global warming, and air and water quality. If you wish to major in any of the basic sciences, we recommend that you take General Chemistry or Advanced General Chemistry and the associated laboratories, which offer an introductory survey of all fields of chemistry (inorganic, analytical, organic, physical, and biochemistry). As you advance in your studies, your course program may include more focused courses such as Instrumental Methods of Analysis, Environmental Chemistry, Topics in Biochemistry, and Physical Chemistry.

Beginning with Quantitative Analysis and Chemical Equilibrium, you will perform extensive analysis of your laboratory data using computerized spreadsheets. In advanced courses, you will be introduced to such instrumental methods as mass spectrometry, atomic absorption, infrared, fluorescence, nuclear magnetic resonance, ultraviolet/visible spectrophotometry, gas chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, electrochemistry, gel electrophoresis, and centrifugation. Our aim is to give practical experience with modern chemical instrumentation so that you can learn not only what an instrument does, but also how it works.

Chemists are uniquely suited to address the technical aspects of many global problems of the 21st century. Whitman’s recent chemistry graduates are working toward goals such as protecting the environment, feeding the world’s people, providing clean energy and improving health.

By your senior year as a chemistry major, you will be able to analyze data, propose quantitative and qualitative solutions to problems, operate state-of-the-art lab instrumentation, and write and speak effectively using language appropriate to each chemical field. You will complete at least three credits of an independent project, which often takes the form of a summer research internship. We believe your senior research should expose you to cutting-edge research problems which foster creative thinking and enhance problem-solving skills.

One of our department’s most important resources is the Penrose Memorial Library. Penrose is one of only a few college libraries in the nation open 24 hours a day during the academic year. Penrose houses 18,000 journals, over 200,000 government documents, and more than 400,000 catalogued volumes. In addition, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, via the Summit online catalog, will give you prompt access to more than 26 million volumes in college and university libraries in the region.

In August 2002, the Chemistry Department moved into a newly constructed, 35,000-square-foot addition to the Hall of Science. The addition features spacious teaching and research laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation, “smart” classrooms equipped with the latest computer technology, seminar rooms, wired and wireless connection to the Internet, a 20-station computer laboratory, and numerous study lounges filled with comfortable and functional furniture and large windows affording spectacular views of the campus and surrounding community. We are currently developing an instrumentation center for the life sciences that will make analytical instrumentation available to the entire science division faculty and students.

Chemistry is often called “the central science” because it connects with both the mathematical sciences (physics, math, and astronomy) and the descriptive sciences (biology, medicine, and geology). Students graduating with a chemistry degree are prepared to work in a wide variety of areas in industry, government, and education. Over the past 10 years, about 80 percent of all chemistry majors have pursued graduate or medical school degrees.