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Chemistry major: Organic Chemistry Seems Boring plus more rantty stuff

  1. May 29, 2014 #1
    I'm taking Organic Chem 1 and 2 during this summer because I'm double majoring with Material Science but so far Organic 1 just feels a bit boring. Yes ofc I'm going to get an A in it but idk it's interesting but at the same time not.

    I mean High School Ap chem and College inorganic chem were ok. However, personally atm I feel like Chemistry is very repetitive. I've basically done the same stuff since High School Chemistry. Whenever I do any chemistry stuff the Inception quote "we need to go deeper" pops up in my mind. Like I kinda want to calculate more than just bond energies and stuff :/. I like chemistry but I feel like there is something missing. Maybe I'm going through Math withdraw since I haven't taken a pure math class since the fall. I remember liking those "pumping water out of tank" problems back when I did Calc 2.

    I technically can cap out a Chemistry minor easily however I'm going to be a sophomore in the fall and idk I'd feel like I wasted a year if I do that and I don't want to be a perpetual student in the future :/.

    I haven't taken P-Chem yet but I herd that has derivatives and calculus in which sounds really interesting.

    How is upper level chemistry anyway?? Dose it still brush over things or dose it involve a lot of calculations?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2014 #2


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    I enjoyed O-Chem, but P-Chem blew my mind (it's awesome!) and I became a physics major.

    But if you like "pumping water out of a tank" questions, you should *seriously* consider Chemical Engineering. It's all about tanks and pipes and simulations -- lots of math. And it's the highest paying Bachelor's out there.

    Repeat: it's the highest paying Bachelor's out there. And there is huge demand for that degree.

    I get a strong impression that you are a ChemE major who has not realized that yet.
  4. May 29, 2014 #3


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    I am a chemical engineering major. The amount of organic chemistry required from my personal experience is basically knowing the chemical formula of basic hydrocarbons (i.e. you should know propane is C3H8). That's about it.

    The OP may just like physical chemistry more than organic, there is plenty of math needed for a chemist who goes that path. Chemical engineering is like what lisab said, calculating pumping out of tanks and designing reactors.
  5. May 30, 2014 #4
    I did general chemistry (covers organic chemistry, physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry) as a science elective (I am a CS + maths double major) and I didn't like organic chemistry at all because it was basically naming things and memorising new vocabulary. I didn't like physical chemistry either because it wasn't taught rigorously, jut plugging numbers into a formula. I liked inorganic chemistry a lot, however.

    I decided to discontinue doing chemistry next semester, it isn't my thing.
  6. May 30, 2014 #5


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    The General Chemistry course is much too brief to study any of those subtopics in much detail. The regular undergraduate courses on each of the main categories go much deeper. You would find the Organic Chemistry course to be far richer than what you see through General Chemistry. Still, you can decide if you like or not like Chemistry as a subject through studying General. A regular Organic chemistry course will present information on many different hydrocarbons, explore compounds with a variety of functional groups, and explore reaction mechanisms; you can begin to understand organic chemical synthesis (reactions to form compounds from different starting compounds).
  7. May 31, 2014 #6
    I started as a chemistry major because I wanted to do organic, but quantum converted me to physics. Although the conversion was a little bit late, so I'm finishing with a chemistry degree and some math/physics on the side.

    Chemistry is probably the worst offender when it comes to luring students in with high school and lower division classes only to take a wild turn at the upper division. They attract you with simple reaction equations, interesting qualitative studying of molecules and matter, and colorful reactions. Then all of a sudden you're faced with reaction mechanisms, Hamiltonian perturbations, and error analysis.
  8. May 31, 2014 #7
    Disclaimer - I am eminently unqualified to discuss about how chemistry is taught outside of the US, and am only marginally capable of a vaguely informed comment on how chemistry is taught in the US. As such, YMMV on what you get out of the following.

    Most introductory general chemistry sequences have the problem that they are often taught to absurdly diverse audiences. In my experience, such course sequences are required for - in addition to chemistry and chemical engineering majors - other physical science and engineering majors (physics, geology, other engineering fields) and the various life science majors (biology and the variants thereof), as well as all of the 'pre'-students (premed, predent, prevet) who might not be doing any sort of natural science degree. As a result, the curriculum is one giant compromise in ways that I don't think affects the other first-year courses. Everyone seems to recognize that mechanics and electromagnetism are your typical first-year introductory courses in physics, and accepts that. First-year chemistry suffers from everyone feeling free to whine that it's not catering enough to their particular interests. I think most chemistry faculty figure that as long as *everyone* is whining, they're doing their job properly. ;)

    Now, there are some places that do an "organic first" curriculum (the first few weeks are spent doing essential chemical structure & reactivity and the rest of the year is organic chemistry, losing some of the more advanced/synthesis-oriented material, as memory serves), but even then there can still be a quantitative(ish) first-year sequence for the physics/geology/engineering majors whose faculty would not be happy having them learn organic chemistry in their first year.

    Insofar as organic chemistry - I've made this point before on here, and will continue to make it. Learning organic chemistry is a lot like learning a new language. Complaints about having to memorize essential nomenclature (which really isn't too onerous) strikes me as simple laziness. Also, the fun part of organic chemistry is the lab. While I drove myself through the lecture part by sheer force of will, I loved organic lab.

    I also have had my obligatory chuckle at the wildly disparate responses to undergraduate physical chemistry, from the "not very rigorous" variety to the "it was colorimetric fun and then bam! perturbation theory" variety. Chemistry is a physical science, after all - then again, I was looking forward to physical chemistry as an undergraduate. But, I should note, undergraduate physical chemistry is intended for all chemistry (and often chemical engineering) students, not just those intending to pursue physical chemistry in their future. Students who do intend to pursue physical chemistry as a career will often take suitable chemistry graduate courses as an undergraduate and/or related courses in the mathematics & physics departments. The course as is often designed is intended to fit in with a typical attendee's background - sure, you could make everyone need more math and physics so as to give them the background to appreciate additional 'rigor', but that's going to cut into an already-cramped set of curricular requirements.

    The other issue is that while it's easy to presume that undergrad p.chem. is some sort of chemist's version of undergrad quantum and thermal physics, the p.chem. sequence is actually a bit 'busier' than that - there's often a reasonable chunk of chemical kinetics that need to be taught, as well as applications to spectroscopy and usually a bit of elementary x-ray diffraction. Remember, this sequence is intended for all chemistry students, and giving everyone some sort of reasonable foundation for understanding the basis for analytical methods is a necessary outcome here.

    Insofar as "brushing over things" - where do you call it quits? You need to have an understanding of the approximations that you make in order to solve a problem, and to appropriately set limits/error bars on your answer. Otherwise, you're going to be that poor chem student who starts to think that they will never be comfortable with NMR for solving simple small molecule structures unless they study nuclear physics at a graduate level in order for a fuller understanding of nuclear spin magnetic moments. ;)
  9. Jun 1, 2014 #8
    Was that a stab at my post? 8)

    Anyway, I guess I never actually answered the thread, so I'll do that now.

    Yes, physical chemistry has derivatives. In thermodynamics you expand on the general chemistry topics (entropy, enthalpy, free energy, etc.). Thermo is really similar to general chemistry, but much more in depth, and since calculus is a prerequisite, you get to actually use derivatives. I enjoyed statistical mechanics a lot more. In statistical mechanics you look at the states that a molecule can be in (vibrational, rotational, translational, energetic). The partition function, which is the normalization factor for the probability of the particle being in a certain state, can be used to derive thermodynamic functions and properties. In inorganic chemistry you move past lewis dot structures and use group/representation theory to derive molecular orbitals based on symmetry. And in quantum chemistry, you do linear algebra. All those quantum numbers get derived from wave equations and you get to see where atomic orbitals and orbital nodes come from. Fun stuff.

    Of course, physical chemistry doesn't get as in depth as physics. As on example, chemistry won't teach you about PDEs other than how to separate the time independent Schroedinger equation. You also likely won't be using any special math techniques (Lagrangian mechanics, Laplace transforms, Green's functions); Fourier series/transforms may come up in quantum mechanics and/or spectroscopy. What really bothered me was how the chemistry department doesn't require linear algebra, so since half of the upper division classes require it, you get to learn about matrix multiplication and eigenvalues a dozen times.
  10. Jun 1, 2014 #9
    All in good spirits - you just happened to provide the alternate reaction to physical chemistry I needed to make that particular point. :)

    Having said that - the introductory undergraduate organic chemistry sequence is, IMO, quite different in nature than high school or first-year university chemistry. It's less quantitative and more "puzzle building and solving in three dimensions, while learning to speak a new language." Having to look at 2D representations of molecules and translating that into three dimensions, and then looking at a molecule and figuring out how to synthesize it from given (or presumed widely available) precursors in a reasonable manner. Or about how to identify some mystery powder in a vial using various methods of characterization and analysis. Because that is also chemistry - and as the original poster's interest is also apparently in materials science, s/he will probably be interested in making materials somewhere along the way, if only to free one's self from what can be bought or scrounged from others.

    On an additional note, I suppose I should briefly mention something on the nature of upper division courses. For example, in first-year chemistry you would likely see rate laws being derived using calculus in lecture, the bulk of the problems you'd encounter in exercises and on exams could be solved using the resulting algebraic expressions with some modification in the end. In physical chemistry, you will often need to derive an expression using calculus and then solve said expression, given some boundary conditions. In graduate courses, the problems will often defy easy analytical solution, so you'll need to make some sort of approximation, justify the approximation, derive an expression, and then punch in the numbers. If you like calculations, you would have loved my physical chemistry lab - not only did we have to calculate all sorts of things from our experimental data (and whether they matched with what was expected theoretically), but there was also error propagation at each step of the way to calculate.

    The thing to keep in mind is that there is almost always some trade-off between depth and breadth in a standard curriculum of any sort - this is hardly the first thread to address an alleged insufficient amount of physics/mathematics/computation in a chemistry curriculum, just like I'm sure there will be another "lack of mathematics in a physics major" thread in due time on here. Of course, there are any number of people who would claim that chemistry undergraduates need more practical skills and bench experience, and not additional mathematics/physics. The undergraduate chemistry curriculum in the US as presently structured is intended to provide a basis for graduate study as well as (ideally) set one up for employment in the private sector across the full breadth of possible chemical careers, not just physical chemistry-related ones. If you don't like it, your options are to switch majors, double major, or go do something else with your education. I say this not to sound callous, but that's the way it is at the moment - there is no great impetus for doing differentiated undergraduate majors at the moment. To be honest, I'm not sure it would be a good idea.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
  11. Jun 2, 2014 #10
    I found organic chemistry to a lot of fun and very intuitive.

    Do you not enjoy attempting to come up with mechanisms for reactions and planning a synthesis?
  12. Jun 4, 2014 #11
    Well that's good i really liked Linear Algebra and Calculus. I don't hate organic I like it at times but I feel like I have to force myself to some of the work and I feel like that's kind of bad seeing it is a course in my major. I do like the lab though.

    However quick question I often wonder is there a class that looks at Chemistry from a Physics perspective (idk how to explain this) but like look at the reaction and see all the energy involved every step of the way and things like that.

    Also I kind of want to take a class one time on Quantum physics, quarks and all that stuff but my college doesn't offer courses like that year round only every other year or longer which kind of sucks because I like Chemistry but I do want to experiment with Physics too. I could always look at Leonard Susskind's video Lectures and other peoples' for that stuff in the mean time though but it really isn't the same as actually taking a course.
  13. Jun 5, 2014 #12


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    Toonation asks this:

    The course is called Physical Chemistry.
  14. Jun 5, 2014 #13
    That would be thermodynamics. Thermodynamics deals with all the energies and physical properties. Reaction energy, chemical potential, etc. Statistical mechanics, though, is where you actually look at the structure of particles and extend it to thermodynamic properties. For instance, you can create a partition function based on the translational, rotational, and vibrational energy levels of molecules in a reaction which can then be used to derive zero point concentrations and the equilibrium constant. I found stat mech to be much more satisfying than thermodynamics. Both courses are fairly introductory, though- thermo doesn't get much attention in undergrad.

    To my knowledge, quarks are covered in particle physics, not quantum. Quantum chemistry should cover all the basics. Physics may go into more detail, cover a couple additional topics, and use some more fancy math techniques (I can't speak from experience, though, since I haven't taken quantum in the physics department). You do get electives and physics courses go great with a chemistry degree if you want to pursue physical chemistry. For my electives I took E&M (part 1), classical mechanics (part 1), mathematical methods for physicists, linear algebra, ODE, and nonlinear DE. I actually enjoyed the physics so much that I actually intend on applying to grad school in physics instead of chemistry (I've been drifting over since I first started with aspirations for organic synthesis).

    Anyway, I would pick up Griffith's Introduction to Elementary Particles if I were you. The first chapter gives a pretty interesting introduction to and history of particle physics. The first two chapters actually satisfied my particle physics curiosity, although I may read through the rest eventually (I have about a dozen books queuing for reading right now).
  15. Jun 6, 2014 #14
    To echo the above points - you'll get a more detailed look at the physical and quantitative details of reaction mechanisms in physical chemistry. I don't know how serious you are about looking at really messy chemistry in such courses, but - in my observations & experience - you'll get at least one in-depth chemical reaction dissected in the course as a case study of sorts, usually something in the gas phase since it makes for a very clear pedagogical example. Higher-level chemistry courses which have physical chemistry as a prerequisite will often go into greater detail for messier (organic/inorganic/biological) reactions, although you will have to come to grips with the fact that the error bars aren't going to be quite as impressive in the messier cases as it was in the gas phase. Unless it's an ultrafast spectroscopy course, in which case I suspect it will be even more impressive to you (photodissociation of ICN case study for the win!). :)
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