The objective of the undergraduate option in chemistry is to produce graduates articulate in the fundamental concepts of the molecular sciences through a combination of coursework and laboratory experiences. The chemistry program at Caltech provides depth in the traditional areas of chemistry—organic and inorganic chemistry, chemical physics, theoretical chemistry, chemical biology, and biochemistry. Breadth in the program is found within the advanced coursework offerings and the specialized interests of the faculty, which may include topics such as: chemical synthesis and catalysis, chemical dynamics and reaction mechanisms, biochemistry, bioinorganic, bioorganic, and biophysical chemistry, nonlinear spectroscopy, electrochemistry, and materials chemistry.
Chemical research at Caltech is highly interdisciplinary, reflecting the increasing importance of molecular understanding to many fields of science. Major initiatives are fostering broad collaborations in molecular medicine, sustainability, environmental science, and nanomaterials.
Caltech offers a Biochemistry Track within the chemistry option. Biochemistry is the study of the chemistry of biological macromolecules and how they enable diverse biological function. This track prepares students in this interdisciplinary area through a combination of coursework offered by Biology, Chemistry, and bioengineering as well as a senior research thesis in a chosen subject area in biochemistry. The Biochemistry Track provides for a wider range of coursework in Biology. Upon graduation, the diploma will read Chemistry (Biochemistry).
The outcome of the undergraduate program in chemistry is to prepare students for advanced graduate study and ultimately careers in teaching and research at colleges and universities, in research for government and industry, in chemical technology from tech startups to corporations, and in leadership and policy positions.
A two-term general chemistry course Ch 1 ab is taken by all first year students. The emphasis is on fundamental principles and their use in systematizing descriptive chemistry. Ch 1 ab must be passed to satisfy the Institute chemistry requirement. The student’s qualifications for placing out of Ch 1 ab will only be determined by the performance on a placement examination to be administered in the summer prior to registration. The one-term required laboratory course (Ch 3 a or 3 x) presents basic principles and techniques of synthesis and analysis and develops the laboratory skills and precision that are fundamental to experimental chemistry. Students interested in Chemistry as a major are encouraged – though not required – to take Ch 3 a. Qualified students, with the consent of the instructor and the option representative, are allowed to substitute either Ch 4 a, Ch 8, or Ch/ChE 9 for the core requirement of Ch 3 a or Ch 3 x. Freshmen interested in the Biochemistry track are encouraged to take Bi 8 (as a substitute for the Bi 1 Core requirement) and Bi 9, if possible. First year students intending to major in chemistry are encouraged to take Ch 10 abc, a 3-unit introduction to research activities and opportunities in chemistry for undergraduates.
Beyond the first year, each student in the chemistry option, in consultation with their adviser, selects a suitable course of study under the supervision of the division. The requirements of the option are listed below. A student wishing to deviate from these requirements should submit an alternate curriculum, with justifications, for consideration by their adviser and the Chemistry Curriculum and Undergraduate Studies Committee. The chemistry option representative should be consulted for the future scheduling of courses not offered during the current academic year.
Undergraduates in the option must also take chemistry courses below the 100 level for a letter grade with the exception of the following courses, which are only offered on a pass/fail basis: Ch 1, Ch 3 a or Ch 3 x, Ch 90, and, if taken during the first or second terms as a first-year student, Ch 4 ab, Ch 21 ab, and Ch 41 ab.
Ch Senior Thesis
Chemistry majors are strongly encouraged to undertake a Senior Thesis, though it is not a requirement.
Students attempting a senior thesis in the chemistry option must complete the following requirements.
- Three terms (27 units) of Ch 82 are to be completed during the junior and/or senior year of study; continued work from research experiences prior to the commencement of the senior thesis is encouraged.
- By Add-Day of the first term of Ch 82, the candidate will submit a short (five-page) proposal delineating their project for approval by the research mentor and the Chemistry Curriculum and Undergraduate Studies Committee (CUSC).
- The candidate will present a short progress report (maximum of five pages) at the end of each of the first two terms of Ch 82, describing the status of the research work and any results obtained. Upon evidence of satisfactory effort, the student will be allowed to continue their senior thesis.
- A thesis of approximately 20 pages (excluding figures and references) will be presented to the mentor and the CUSC at the end of the third term of Ch 82. An oral thesis defense will be arranged by the CUSC. The thesis must be approved by both the research mentor and the CUSC.
- Upon approval by the research mentor and the CUSC, the Ch 91 requirement for graduation may be satisfied by the written thesis and the progress reports from the first two quarters of Ch 82. A draft of the thesis is to be submitted by Week 7.
Ch Double Majors
For students simultaneously pursuing a degree in a second option, courses taken as required courses for that option can also be counted as chemistry electives (requirement 3, below) where appropriate. However, courses that count toward the electives requirement in the other option cannot simultaneously be counted toward satisfying the elective requirement in chemistry.
The courses listed below would constitute a common core for many students in the option.
Any student of the chemistry option whose grade-point average is less than 1.9 will be admitted to the option for the following year only with the special permission of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Passing grades must be earned in the courses that constitute the approved program of study, including those listed below. None of the courses satisfying option requirements may be taken pass/fail.
Ch Option Requirements (non-Biochemistry)
- Ch 14, Ch 21abc, Ch 41abc, Ch 90, Ma 2, and Ph 2a. Ma 3 is recommended but not required. Students may make the following substitutions: For Ch14 (ESE/Ge 142); for Ch 21a (Ph 2b, Ph 12b, Ch 125a or Ph 125a); for Ch 21c (Ph 2c, Ph 12c, ChE/Ch 164 or Ph 127a). 100-level courses used in substitution for these option requirements may not also be counted towards the five terms of advanced electives. The Ch option requires Ch 90, Oral Presentation. Ch 91 is required to meet the Institute Core Requirement for Scientific Writing. For students in the biochemistry track, the senior thesis can be used to satisfy the writing requirement.
- A minimum of five terms of laboratory work chosen from Ch 4ab, Ch 5ab, Ch 6, Ch 7, and Ch 15. One non-chemistry laboratory course may be used, chosen from MS 90, Ph 6 and Ph 7, or an alternative with sufficient Chemistry content, by approval of the Option Representative. One term of research, either 10 c (if taken during first or second year) or one term of Ch 82 (Senior Thesis), if taken for grades as the third and final term, may count for one of the five laboratory courses.
- A minimum of five terms of advanced chemistry electives (which must total at least 45 units) from chemistry course offerings numbered 102 or higher, including cross-listed offerings but excluding Ch 180 and Ch 280. Students may petition to substitute up to but no more than one 100-level elective from another option, if the substituted course has substantial chemistry content. Ch 101 cannot be used to meet the five term requirement but can be used to meet the 45 unit requirement for advanced electives.
The chemistry option strongly encourages students to engage in academic year research, and up to 27 units each of Ch 80 and Ch 82 can count toward the 486-unit requirement.
Biochemistry Track Requirements
- Ch 14, Ch 21abc, Ch 41abc, Ch 90, Ma 2, Ph 2a (required for the Ch option), Bi 8 (which can be taken instead of Bi1 to satisfy Core requirements), Bi 9, and Ch/Bi 110ab (Biochemistry) are required. Ma 3 is recommended but not required. Students may make the following substitutions: For Ch14 (ESE/Ge 142); for Ch 21a (Ph 2b, Ph 12b, Ch 125a or Ph 125a); for Ch 21c (Ph 2c, Ph 12c, ChE/Ch 164 or Ph 127a). 100-level courses used in substitution for these option requirements may not also be counted towards the required terms of advanced electives.
- Four required laboratory courses: Ch 4a, Bi 10, and Ch11 (Biochemistry Lab), and one other laboratory course from Ch4b, Ch6ab, Ch15, Ch7, BMB/Ch 230 (crystallography), or ChE130 (biomolecular engineering lab).
- In addition to Ch/Bi 110ab, a minimum of four terms of advanced electives (which must total at least 36 units) from biology or chemistry course offerings numbered 102 or higher, including cross-listed offerings but excluding research, chosen in consultation with their academic advisor. Students are strongly encouraged to take electives from the biomolecular and molecular cell biology areas. Ch 101 cannot be used to meet the four-term requirement but can be used to meet the unit requirement for advanced electives.
- Senior Thesis (three terms) as described above.
Ch Typical Course Schedule
|Units per term|
|Ch 41 abc||Organic Chemistry||9||9||9|
|Ma 2||Sophomore Mathematics||9||-||-|
|Ph 2 a||Sophomore Physics||9||-||-|
|Ch 4 ab||Synthesis and Analysis of Organic and Inorganic Compounds||-||9||9|
|Ch 102||Intro to Inorganic Chemistry||-||-||9|
|Ch 5 a||Advanced Techniques of Synthesis and Analysis||-||12||-|
|or Ch 5 b||9||-||-|
|Ch 15||Chemical Equilibrium and Analysis Laboratory||-||-||10|
|Ch 21 abc||Physical Chemistry||9||9||9|
|CH 14||Chemical Equilibrium and Analysis||-||9||-|
|Ch 90||Oral Presentation||-||3||-|
|Ch/ChE 91||Scientific Writing||-||-||3|
|Ch 6||Physical and Biophys. Chemistry Lab||-||-||9|
|Ch/Bi 110 a||Introduction to Biochemistry||12||-||-|
|or Ch 7||Advanced Experim. Methods in Bioorganic Chemistry||-||-||9|
This typical program is not specifically required for graduation in the option, nor is it in any sense a complete program. Students are expected to work out individual programs suitable for their interests and professional goals in consultation with their advisers. Several representative programs, including sets of possible electives, are shown below. These may well approximate choices by students who intend to do graduate work in conventional areas of chemistry.
Suggested Representative Courses of Study for Those Intending Graduate Work in Particular Areas of Chemistry
|Second Year||Third Year||Fourth Year|
|Ch 4 ab, Ch 41 abc, Ch 102, Ma 2, Ph 2 a, HSS elective, other elective||
Ch 5 b, Ch 14,
Ch 21 abc,
Ch 80, Ch 90,
Ch 6 or Ch 15, Ch electives,
Ch 82, HSS
|Ch 4 ab, Ch 14, Ch 21 abc, Ch 102, Ma 2, Ma 3, Ph 2 a, HSS elective||
Ch 6, Ch 15, Ch 41 abc, Ch
Ch 80, Ch 90,
Ch 125 ab, Ch laboratory, Ch electives,
Ch 82, HSS elective
|Ch 4 ab, Ch 41 abc, Ch 102, Ma 2, Ph 2 a, HSS elective, other elective||
Ch 5 a, Ch 7,
Ch 14, Ch 21 abc, Ch 104, Ch elective(s), Ch laboratory, Ch 80, Ch 90, Ch/ChE 91,
Ch 6, Ch 15, Ch electives,
Ch 82, HSS elective
|Biochemistry||Ch 4 ab, Ch 14, Ch 41 abc, Ch 102, Bi 8, Bi 9, Bi 10, Ma 2, Ma 3, Ph 2 a, HSS elective||
Ch 11, Ch 21 abc, Ch 80, Ch 90, Ch/ChE 91,
Ch/Bi 110 ab,Ch electives, HSS electives
Ch laboratories, Ch (Bi)
Ch 82, HSS
Ch Minor Requirements
The chemistry minor is intended to supplement one of Caltech’s undergraduate degrees. It is designed for students who wish to broaden their studies beyond their major to include chemistry. Students completing the chemistry minor requirements will have the phrase ”minor in chemistry” added to their transcripts.
- 18 units of organic chemistry, taken from Ch 41 abc.
- 18 units of physical chemistry, taken from Ch 21 abc (or substitute as specified for the major).
- 27 units of advanced chemistry electives numbered Ch 102 or above, approved by their designated chemistry adviser or the option representative.
- 9 or more units of a chemistry laboratory course from Ch4ab, Ch 5 ab, Ch 6 ab, Ch7 or Ch15. No substitutions are allowed.
All courses to be applied to fulfill the minor requirements must be taken for grades. Courses taken as part of the chemistry minor are counted toward the total 486 units needed for Institute graduation requirements. To enroll in the program, the student should meet and discuss their plans with the option representative. In general, approval is contingent on good academic performance by the student and demonstrated ability for handling the heavier course load. Courses that are used to satisfy the Chemistry minor requirements cannot be used to satisfy course requirements in another major.