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Schools What's chemistry like in university? Lots of math?

  1. Jun 28, 2012 #1
    Hello, I am planning to major in chemistry and I just wanted to know if a lot of the material is, or requires, mathematics.
    I love math and I would say I am pretty good at it. It would be my second choice for a major. However, I heard that chemistry is not really a mathematical science, moreso just memorization and comprehension with occasional needs for logic.
    Am I right? What areas of chemistry are more concentrated with mathematics?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2012 #2
    You are not right completely. General chemistry is often taught with more memorization than intro physics but outside of intro classes there is a need for 'logic.'

    That being said, chemistry does not get as mathematical as physics ever for most people. There are areas of highly mathematical chemistry (there is theoretical chemistry) but chemistry course work lags behind physics in terms of math used - even in physical chemistry. That being said, physical chemistry is the most mathematical area of chemistry.

    I am personally going to do physical chemistry, but despite the lack of math, I find inorganic chemistry really cool.
  4. Jun 28, 2012 #3
    Physical chemistry sounds great, and since you seem knowledgeable about it, may I ask you what kind of career it can lead to? I find introductory physical chemistry interesting but I can't come up with anything it may lead to professionally other than very scarce opportunities for research. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  5. Jun 28, 2012 #4
    There is a Grad class at my school called "computational chemistry" that involves programming, group theory, and quantum mechanics (and therefore some DiffEq and lots of linear algebra). If you are doing experiments you need to know a lot about probability and statistics.
    There is at least one chem student that I know who has been taking some extra math classes because he will be pursuing a PhD. If you go all the way, you'll probably need to use a lot of pretty advanced math.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012
  6. Jun 29, 2012 #5
    Doing 4 hour labs that are tedious and make you want to gouge your eyes out
  7. Jun 29, 2012 #6
    I'm not even a grad student yet so I actually really can't comment about job prospects =/

    People don't give labs a chance because they think doing well in lecture means they want to do theoretical physics. Labs are great if effort is given.
  8. Jun 29, 2012 #7
    don't worry about the math. worry about the science. now if you want to worry about the math... you can do theory, but you'll have to get past the qualitative classes first. Yes, even in physics, there's alot of stuff thats qualitative. there's even more qualitative stuff in chemistry. No math in organic chemistry.

    So at the undergrad level, if you only want pure 100% quantitative courses, just major in math or CS or something like that.
  9. Jun 29, 2012 #8
    Yesterday I was doing a kinetics lab to show the effects of concentrations and temperatures of mixtures to determine the speed of the reaction.

    We have to put 4 different chemicals into one beaker, and 2 chemicals into the other beaker, at specific volumes and mix them. Doing this twice to confirm results with 4 different set of numbers for the temperature (one 10 degrees below room T, room T, 10 above room T, and 20 above room T). They had to be measured with the pipet. It took atleast 5 minutes to do it once I got into the groove and was used to it, but it ended up being measuring these chemicals 48 times, and some of the chemicals had high viscosity so it took a while for them to actually get out of the pipet (.20 M KI). It ended up taking 4 hours to do, that may be one of the most tedious experiments ever. I already knew that putting stuff in cold water would make the reaction go slower than putting it in hot water, but 4 hours to experimentally confirm it was killer.
  10. Jun 30, 2012 #9
    Like pretty much everyone else has said, the amount of math, and the type of math required really depends on what sort of chemistry that you study.

    Physical/quantum chemistry is very heavily based in calculus (I just finished taking such a course).

    In my experience, analytical chemistry uses a ton of stats, but also some calculus as well.

    Biochem (my concentration), uses some math but is heavily based on memorizing massive amounts of information.

    Organic is only really based in logic-type problems. I.e. applying what you've been taught in class and applying it to unfamiliar problems.

    However, no matter what type of chemistry you study, you'll probably need to take up through calc 3 or differential equations depending on what your school requires.
  11. Jul 1, 2012 #10
    Thank you everyone for the input, but come on, are labs really that bad? I'm in highschool so I get the idea that mixing up chemicals and using different gizmos can't be all that boring. I recognize the fact that some require, up to 4 hours just to confirm the obvious, but there must be a handful of fun labs too, no?

    Hmm, all of these areas seem interesting. Physical/ quantum chemistry seems to appeal to me the most, but one thing that darkens the option for me is that I can't think of anything one might do with a physical/ quantum chem degree, in terms of jobs. Of course the topic itself is fascinating, but to advance professionally after earning the degree has to be at least somewhat secure.

    Alternatively, you mention that organic chemistry is based on logic-type problems. I have never heard of that from this perspective, I have always thought that it's memorization and finding simple patterns (but then again I'm not too knowledgeable about it at all). Would you please mind to elaborate/ give an example of what organic chemistry is like? Your words got me suddenly interested in it, and I've never really considered organic chemistry before. I like logic problems :)

  12. Jul 1, 2012 #11
    It's quite possible that orgo here at UMich is taught a little differently than many other places. Furthermore, it's my experience that everyone has a different approach to the material. In our dreaded coursepack (a spiral-bound book of old exam questions with no answers), they mention that those with strong math skills tend to perform better because of logic/problem-solving skills that go with math.

    The professors and graduate student instructors will generally tell you not to memorize anything. However, that was the only way in which I could truly learn orgo (N.B. use the tables @ the end of the chapters). Also, finding patterns is a key component for the study of reaction mechanisms as well.

    Now this is where the logic/problem solving comes into play. Our exams basically consisted 5 sets of problems pulled right out of published journals (they were always cited). In order to be able to come up with the answers, you have to take what you've memorized (including the rules for certain reactions, as well as exceptions to those rules) and apply it to a new and unfamiliar problem. The logic becomes especially important when you start to study multistep synthesis problems in Orgo II.

    Although, I'm not crazy about math, I really enjoyed orgo because each problem was like a mini-puzzle. Without showing you an example problem, it's kind of hard to explain. You could probably look online and find old exams at your university on studyblue.com or coursehero.com to get a feel for what I mean.

    Part of the reason why I chose biochem was for professional security. You've got options after graduation: you can go into pharmacology, medicine, dentistry, genetics, research, or grad school and anything in between. Also, I have a strong personal interest in the material.

    Lastly, 4 hour labs can be great or horrible depending on the class and the experiment. Getting to do perform of my A.Chem professor's publications by synthesizing selective electrode membranes (which he had patented) and then using them to build an electrode and determine the weight of DNA in a sample was one of the coolest things I've ever done. However, waiting an hour for my electrophoresis plates to finish running in Biochem lab is always torture.
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