Introductory Chemistry Requirement for Physics Majors: Why is it Mandatory?

  • #1
70
6

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello,

I looked into lists of subjects/courses for Physics Major, and I surprised that Introductory Chemistry is in the list, as mandatory course. I suspect that Molecule and Solids and Nuclear Physics chapter have to do with chemistry

Why is it mandatory to take Introductory Chemistry course for Physics Major? As physicist, what is the benefit of learning chemistry?

Here is the courses list, from a top university in Indonesia, the country where I live in: Course List

Cheers, Bagas
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,801
7,812
The thought that you might learn something not immediately applicable? The horror! The horror!
 
  • Like
Likes epenguin and vela
  • #3
70
6
The thought that you might learn something not immediately applicable? The horror! The horror!
Vanadium, Vanadium. Please no joke here.

Have a look to my question above.
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,801
7,812
I'm serious. The point of a university education - indeed, education - is not to transmit the absolute bare minimum of information.
 
  • #5
70
6
I'm serious. The point of a university education - indeed, education - is not to transmit the absolute bare minimum of information.
So physics students also learn chemistry because of nuclear physics?
 
  • #6
1,448
1,301
So physics students also learn chemistry because of nuclear physics?
You don't need chemistry for nuclear physics. In fact, I am myself studying UG without chemistry as a generic elective (instead, I have computer science). But many institutions in my country too have made it a rule that in their 4-year BS-MS dual degree courses, students have to study all four science subjects (physics, chemistry, maths and even biology) for two years, and only in the third year you can choose a major subject.
As a physicist, what is the benefit of learning chemistry?
Chemistry might be required (I am not too sure) in fields like Condensed Matter Physics, but if you choose a different path like particle physics or nuclear physics, you don't need chemistry.

In short, I feel that whether you require chemistry depends on the field you choose, but most probably in general, you don't need the subject. Even if you require it, you will be in a position to study the necessary topics from any book, as and when the need arises.
The point of a university education - indeed, education - is not to transmit the absolute bare minimum of information.
True, but then I should study geography as well.

If physics is one's passion, and one really loves the subject, I believe forcing him/her to study other unrelated subjects simply adds workload. At the school level, this may be accepted, but not at the university/college level.
 
  • Like
Likes bagasme
  • #7
1,016
308
Chemistry is applied physics. So is solid state physics, nuclear physics, astronomy, electronics, cosmology, accelerator physics... where exactly do you propose we stop teaching about applications of physics? Should we just teach first year students about the standard model and expect them to work their way up?
 
  • #8
1,448
1,301
Chemistry is applied physics. So is solid state physics, nuclear physics, astronomy, electronics, cosmology, accelerator physics... where exactly do you propose we stop teaching about applications of physics? Should we just teach first year students about the standard model and expect them to work their way up?
You teach me quantum chemistry, I will be happy to learn that. But if you teach me mechanisms of organic reactions, I am not quite sure how that will be helpful in physics major.
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,801
7,812
True, but then I should study geography as well.
And you should.
If physics is one's passion, and one really loves the subject, I believe forcing him/her to study other unrelated subjects simply adds workload.
Again - learning something that might not be immediately useful. Oh, the humanity!

but not at the university/college level.
You don't know the irony. Do you know who invented the liberal arts? A guy named Martianus Capella.

I'm going to steal some of this from retired professor and PF member Steve Dutch: "The roots of university curricula go back through the Middle Ages to about 400 A.D. The Roman Empire was coming unglued, and a Roman proconsul named Martianus Capella confronted the problem of how to cope. With central authority becoming fragmented and invaders sweeping in, there was every likelihood that a person might find himself carried off into captivity a thousand miles from home among people who spoke a completely different language. What did you need to know to survive in such a wildly uncertain world? Capella's answer: everything, or at least as close as you could come to it. "
 
Last edited:
  • #10
TeethWhitener
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,806
1,155
In short, I feel that whether you require chemistry depends on the field you choose, but most probably in general, you don't need the subject.
I think this is highly misleading. Most probably, if you're pursuing a career as a research physicist, you're not working in particle/nuclear physics. You're most probably studying a field which uses chemistry directly or indirectly:
https://www.aip.org/statistics/data...ubfield-physics-departments-classes-2010-2011
Of course, most probably if you're getting a degree in physics, you're not going to end up as a career physicist:
https://www.aip.org/statistics/whos-hiring-physics-phds
 
  • #11
DaveE
Gold Member
667
487
mechanisms of organic reactions
Which isn't often part of "Introduction to Chemistry". As I recall, my freshman chemistry class had a lot of physics in it.

I also believe that a university education should include enough breadth so that you know the big picture. How will you understand the limits of your knowledge or chosen specialty if you haven't been shown the similar related subjects? Graduate studies or continuing self-study can be quite effective in developing a deeper understanding of your field, so it is important that you are given a broad education initially so you will know what to study more of later. Perhaps some ancillary courses you will take are a waste of effort, but some may be very valuable; how will you know if you aren't introduced to them?
 
  • Like
Likes vela and symbolipoint
  • #12
ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
35,805
4,606
Hello,

I looked into lists of subjects/courses for Physics Major, and I surprised that Introductory Chemistry is in the list, as mandatory course. I suspect that Molecule and Solids and Nuclear Physics chapter have to do with chemistry

Why is it mandatory to take Introductory Chemistry course for Physics Major? As physicist, what is the benefit of learning chemistry?

Here is the courses list, from a top university in Indonesia, the country where I live in: Course List

Cheers, Bagas
Question: How do you know that you won't need Chemistry in some way later on?

I teach a physics class to students majoring in Biology, Pre-Med, Life-Science, etc., and they certainly don't immediately see the need for a physics class. Yet, it is required as part of their major.

Here's an anecdotal story: When I started my Ph.D program, the first year of my research work I did only thin-film growth, where I not only made thin films of metals and superconductors, but also I assembled growth chamber, maintained all the diagnostics, etc.. Turned out, NONE of what I did during that time ended up in my PhD research area and in my thesis. Was that a waste of time?

Dial forward 3 years after that, toward the end of my Post-doc work, I got hired as a staff physicist because of, among others, they needed someone who can design, build, assemble, and grow thin films! It turned out that something that I did, that had no significance in my degree, was the skill that got me hired!

Moral of the story: Life happens while you're making plans. You may think you know what you want to do and where you want to end up, but this is often NOT what will ultimately occur! You have no idea what knowledge and what skills you may need either to get that job, or to accomplish something.

And this is all before I tell you why Chemistry is important for you as a physics major!

Zz.
 
  • Like
Likes jasonRF, cobalt124, symbolipoint and 1 other person
  • #13
1,448
1,301
Which isn't often part of "Introduction to Chemistry". As I recall, my freshman chemistry class had a lot of physics in it.
Then the debate is over. In my country, in all universities, you have to study organic and inorganic chemistry in addition to physical chemistry. That includes memorising name reactions. That is the primary reason why I dislike this subject.

My main problem with chemistry is with the memorising part, rather than the physical part. In most universities here, we have the former rather than the latter in greater amount. This influenced my viewpoint against studying chemistry. If in other countries chemistry means physical chemistry, then there is no harm in it, and I support studying that.
 
  • #14
ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
35,805
4,606
Then the debate is over. In my country, in all universities, you have to study organic and inorganic chemistry in addition to physical chemistry. That includes memorising name reactions. That is the primary reason why I dislike this subject.

My main problem with chemistry is with the memorising part, rather than the physical part. In most universities here, we have the former rather than the latter in greater amount. This influenced my viewpoint against studying chemistry. If in other countries chemistry means physical chemistry, then there is no harm in it, and I support studying that.
Then your issue is not with the subject, but with the WAY it is being taught. This is a DIFFERENT issue!

Just because a policy is poorly executed does not mean that it is a bad policy. You need to learn how to differentiate the two.

Zz.
 
  • Like
Likes marcusl
  • #15
DaveE
Gold Member
667
487
Then the debate is over. In my country, in all universities, you have to study organic and inorganic chemistry in addition to physical chemistry. That includes memorising name reactions. That is the primary reason why I dislike this subject.

My main problem with chemistry is with the memorising part, rather than the physical part. In most universities here, we have the former rather than the latter in greater amount. This influenced my viewpoint against studying chemistry. If in other countries chemistry means physical chemistry, then there is no harm in it, and I support studying that.
Yes, I'm with you. That sounds very frustrating.
I always hated "learning by memorization". I have memorized a whole bunch of stuff and almost all of it was by actually using it. Memorization should happen last, not first.
 
  • Like
Likes Wrichik Basu and bagasme
  • #16
Dr. Courtney
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
3,222
2,331
It is not unreasonable to require all well-trained scientists to have a couple semesters in the other basic sciences. I benefited greatly from my year of Biology and Chemistry, even taking more than required. The science has served me very well in my career.
 
  • #17
ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
35,805
4,606
Speaking of "Biology", a lot of physicists jumped into the BioPhysics bandwagon during the 90's and early 2000's when funding for physical sciences went into the toilet, while funding to NIH went through the roof.

You may want to do one thing, but if no one is going to fund you or pay you to do that, it will be completely useless. This is where the wider your knowledge base, the better you are able to adapt. This is no different than having a large genetic variation (if you know biology).

Zz.
 
  • #18
TeethWhitener
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,806
1,155
That includes memorising name reactions. That is the primary reason why I dislike this subject.
How is this different from memorizing named equations? You certainly aren't going to rederive the Schrodinger equation/Euler-Lagrange equation/Maxwell's equations/etc. every time you use them. Most practicing physicists memorize them if for no other reason than their classwork beats them over the head with it until they know it cold. Ditto for chemistry. You just happen to have a certain preference for what you get beaten over the head with.

The point in chemistry, just as in physics, is to understand the (relatively small) set of principles behind the names. There are a zillion different iterations of palladium-catalyzed cross coupling, each with a different Nobel laureate's name attached, but I probably couldn't tell you what most of them are. I do know that all of them are probably going to involve an oxidative addition, a transmetalation, and a reductive elimination.
 
  • #19
symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,999
1,094
WHY?
Too many ways that Physics and Chemistry overlap. Far, far too many ways. Chemistry students may well also ask, with so much use of Physics to explain topics about atoms and colors of coordination complexes and relationship between absorption of heat and temperature change for substances, are these students learning Chemistry, or are they learning Physics? If one studies Physics, one must at some times, pay attention to the identities and qualities of specific materials and blends of materials.
 
  • Like
Likes bagasme
  • #20
70
6
WHY?
Too many ways that Physics and Chemistry overlap. Far, far too many ways. Chemistry students may well also ask, with so much use of Physics to explain topics about atoms and colors of coordination complexes and relationship between absorption of heat and temperature change for substances, are these students learning Chemistry, or are they learning Physics? If one studies Physics, one must at some times, pay attention to the identities and qualities of specific materials and blends of materials.
Regarding Physics-Chemistry overlap, the chapters which are in physics as well as chemistry are atomic models, quantum theory, molecule bonds and solids.
 
  • #21
1,448
1,301
How is this different from memorizing named equations? You certainly aren't going to rederive the Schrodinger equation/Euler-Lagrange equation/Maxwell's equations/etc. every time you use them. Most practicing physicists memorize them if for no other reason than their classwork beats them over the head with it until they know it cold. Ditto for chemistry. You just happen to have a certain preference for what you get beaten over the head with.
It is a matter of preference. A physics major might not want to memorise reactions in chemistry, while he can easily remember equations in physics (maybe he doesn't even know he is, kind of, memorising those equations). Same goes for a chemistry major, as @symbolipoint suggested in post #19 above. The memorising becomes easier if you are interested in the subject. If I ask a chemistry major (who is interested in organic chemistry, say) to study QFT, he would perhaps be least interested in it, because that is not his preference.

The study becomes more painful if there are examinations and credit points associated with it. I do sometimes study topics in biology because I am interested in them, but if I were to sit for an exam on those topics, it would be a painful situation for me.

The point that I want to stress is, don't force students to study something that they don't like. It would simply add to the workload if the student has at the back of his mind that he is studying only for an examination, and is not interested in the subject. Interest in a subject cannot be grown forcibly, and if you are not interested, then what you have studied doesn't stay with you long after the exam is over.
 
  • Like
Likes bagasme
  • #22
ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
35,805
4,606
The point that I want to stress is, don't force students to study something that they don't like. It would simply add to the workload if the student has at the back of his mind that he is studying only for an examination, and is not interested in the subject. Interest in a subject cannot be grown forcibly, and if you are not interested, then what you have studied doesn't stay with you long after the exam is over.
This is one of the WORST ideas I've heard on this forum.

Many students do not like to study math. So should we tell them they don't have to do it even though we KNOW that many of them will need it later on?

You do not know what you might need. We put stuff on the curriculum so that you have a wide-enough knowledge base that will equip you to go on whatever directions that your life may take you. You do not yet know what is important to you. So how could you tell that the subject that you have no interest in might actually be important? And how would you know that the subjects that actually interest you are even important?

You don't!

You, as a student, are not the best judge to know what you need and what you don't. We give you want you need, not what you like.

Zz.
 
  • Like
Likes jasonRF, cobalt124, vela and 1 other person
  • #23
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
2019 Award
24,801
7,812
This is one of the WORST ideas I've heard on this forum.
While I agree, let's cut the kid some slack. He's not even in college, so of course he's dispensing bad advice. And of course the OP gives it a Like. Who wouldn't like advice that says "Sure, you can eat nothing but candy"?
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes jasonRF, symbolipoint and Dr. Courtney
  • #24
ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
35,805
4,606
While I agree, let's cut the kid some slack. He's not even in college, so of course he's dispensing bad advice. And of course the OP gives it a Like. Who wouldn't like advice that says "Sure, you can eat nothing but candy".
Then I'm glad I refrained myself from saying "You're acting like a petulant child who refuses to eat your vegetables!"

Zz.
 
  • Like
Likes Dr. Courtney
  • #25
symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,999
1,094
Guess what also happens! A person of age well over 50 attends your class, has been working at least a few years, your class is required as part of some kind of graduation requirement, and this person tells you much the same as what you'd expect or imagine to hear of a much younger and less experienced student; that stuff about not expecting to use any of some particular course, the "some particular course" being impractical for student's expected later jobs. Etcetera,..

Frustrating. Like you said, the student still does not know exactly what he/she will need or not need.
 

Related Threads on Introductory Chemistry Requirement for Physics Majors: Why is it Mandatory?

Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
0
Views
1K
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
6K
Replies
1
Views
1K
Replies
8
Views
7K
Replies
25
Views
96K
Replies
6
Views
22K
Replies
10
Views
2K
Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
1
Views
3K
Top