Chemistry Dept. Revamps Lab Curriculum For Fall

Over the next two years, the Department of Chemistry will be implementing a new laboratory curriculum which will incorporate some of the department's current research topics. Replacing three chemistry labs required for Course V majors, these 12 four-unit "module" classes are intended to give students more flexibility in scheduling, according to Sylvia T. Ceyer, associate department head of the Chemistry Department.

Beginning in the fall, Introductory Chemical Experimentation (5.311) and Intermediate Chemical Experimentation (5.32) will be replaced by a number of the new modules, Ceyer said. In Fall 2008, Advanced Chemical Experimentation and Instrumentation (5.33) will be replaced by the final modules.

Laboratory Chemistry (5.310), taken by non-Course V majors, will continue to be offered, though Ceyer said 5.310 would be "our next point of attack."

"This change will affect mostly our sophomores, who have yet to take most of the required lab courses," said Melinda G. Cerny, associate director of the Chemistry Education Office. "We will be encouraging our juniors to finish their lab requirements as soon as possible." Ceyer assured that no students would need to repeat any laboratory courses.

According to Ceyer, the motivation for the change was "to update the curriculum so that it is based on current research" and "teach core concepts within the framework of current chemical research."

Annelise R. Beck '09, a Course V major, said that the new module system is definitely an improvement. "I don't really like the current lab classes, and I like the fact that these new modules are somehow related or reflective of current MIT research," Beck said. "The topics sound much more interesting."

The change should also provide students more flexibility, Ceyer said. Though the total number of required laboratory units remains 48 units, Course V majors will be able to spread out the laboratory curriculum up to seven semesters, she added, with students who are interested able to begin lab courses the second semester of their freshman year. The new system will also allow students to participate in UROPs because there is a lighter lab load per semester.

According to Cerny, the change has been in the making for four to five years, spearheaded by Rick L. Danheiser, former associate department head, and Ceyer. It was "slow development," Ceyer said," because the faculty had to develop new experiments. Many of the experiments are similar to those being carried out in the chemistry research laboratories, she said. The new program will be led by Mariusz T. Twardowski.

The Chemistry Department received a $100,000 grant from the Webster Foundation to implement the new curriculum, as well as "considerable funding to at least that amount" from the School of Science, Ceyer said.

Because of a faculty rule requiring that subject be at least 12 units, according to Ceyer, the modules have been grouped in threes. These classes will be "J graded," which means that students will not receive a grade for the 12-unit class (only a "J") until the three modules in the group have been taken. If a student decides to take individual modules instead of the entire subject (such as for students who switch into a different major), they can also be given a grade for a four- or eight- unit course, Ceyer said.

The four new subjects (each made of three modules) are Introduction to Experimental Chemistry (5.35), Biochemistry and Organic Lab (5.36), Organic and Inorganic Lab (5.37), and Physical Chemistry Lab (5.38).

Each module has its own prerequisites within the department. More information on these modules is available at

Students will be able to register for one to four modules per semester.

An additional advantage to the module system is that freshmen can explore Course V without committing to the major, Cerny said. By signing up for individual modules, they will be able to explore some of the ongoing chemistry research projects.

The initiative for the new program was conceived with student input through class evaluations and departmental UROPs, according to Cerny. "Students who were taking the Physical Chemistry Lab really essentially spent every afternoon in lab, so it was a huge time commitment for them," Cerny said. "This will allow students with heavy semesters or several afternoon HASS classes to plan accordingly."

In the upcoming fall term, all of 5.35 modules and one of of the modules in 5.36 will be offered. The rest of the modules will be offered over the course of the next couple years with the last few modules scheduled to be offered by Spring 2009.

An open information session regarding the new laboratory modules will be held April 24 at 5 p.m. in 4-270.