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CHEM Guide for First Years

First year students enjoying gravimetric analysis lab.

Chemistry Registration Guide for First Year Students: Class of 2026

CHEM courses available during 22-23 academic year appropriate for first year students:
CHEM 010. Foundations of Chemical Principles. (only taught in the Fall)
CHEM 010 HN. Foundations of Chemical Principles – Honors.  (only taught in the Fall)
CHEM 003C. Green and Sustainable Chemistry. (Spring 2023, targeted to non-science majors)  

Both CHEM 010 and CHEM 010 HN are NSEP courses (Natural sciences and engineering practicum).  All three CHEM courses listed above (010, 010 HN and 003C) are eligible for fulfilling Environmental Studies (ENVS) program requirements.  

Chem 010 is the the normal point of entry for the chemistry and biochemistry curriculum.   There is no Chemistry Readiness Exam for Chem 010 as was done in years prior to 2022.   All students interested in CHEM 010 are encouraged to enroll.  Chem 010 meets for 50 min lectures three days a week and  requires enrollment in a ~3.5 hr. laboratory section.  Six laboratory sections are available to students, with labs held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons (1:00 to 4:30 pm) as well and Tuesday and Thursday mornings (8:00 to 11:15 am).   

Labs are capped at 24 students and are filled on a first come, first served basis.   Some students may find themselves unable to register for their first choice lecture or lab section due to enrollment caps so keep this in mind when you prepare for online enrollment and come prepared for a backup section.   If you are unable to find an open section that fits in your schedule and would like to be added to the waitlist, please send an email to both Prof. Kathryn Riley (kriley1@swarthmore.edu) and Dr. Maria Gallagher (mgallag2@swarthmore.edu), including all choices for lecture time and lab sections that fit your schedule.

There is an honors version of  introductory chemistry (CHEM 010 HN) intended for those who have had intensive chemistry experience in high school.  The Chemistry & Biochemistry Department does not grant any credit for AP or IB exam scores.  However,  we offer the option of  taking an Honors Placement Exam to enroll in Chem 010 HN (see details of Honors Placement Exam below).    Unlike Chem 010 that meets 3 times per week for 50 minute lectures and then an addition laboratory section, CHEM 010 HN will be taught only once per week on Wednesdays from 1:00 to 4:30 pm. and will include both laboratory experiments and seminar-style discussions focused on various contemporary chemical and environmental issues. 

The Honors Placement Exam is used to determine eligibility for CHEM 010 HN.  Students with the highest scores on the Honors placement exam will be invited to enroll in CHEM 010 HN. The Honors Placement Exam is available on Moodle. If you are interested in being considered for enrollment in CHEM 010 HN, you should take this exam by 5:00 PM on Sunday August 21st.    Students who are eligible to take CHEM 010H are notified by email prior to registration by Prof. Chris Graves (cgraves1@swarthmore.edu).  Students who miss this deadline should contact Prof. Chris Graves.

The following are some frequently asked questions:  

I have a class at 11:20 am on Tuesday and Thursday. Can I still take a morning lab?   Morning labs are scheduled until 11:15 am. If a student has a class at 11:20 am, they should let their laboratory instructor know. We will work with that student to make sure that they get out of lab in time each week to make it to their next class.

The morning labs start at 8 am. That upsets me. Why should I still take a morning lab?   Historically, most students who take the morning labs end up preferring that time for future lab sections when it is available. The labs tend to be smaller, which means less waiting for equipment and more personalized attention from instructors and teaching assistants, so the lab experiments take less time. Also, taking a morning lab by definition frees up an afternoon for the student who can then use it for other activities or just for some free time.

The only labs that work for my schedule are full. What do I do?   If a student cannot get a lab section they want, but are very interested in taking CHEM 010 this semester, they should sign up for a different lab and contact Dr. Maria Gallagher (mgallag2@swarthmore.edu) immediately about the issue. We will work with the student on finding a way to fit CHEM 010 into their schedule.  Once the student has contacted their instructor, they will be added to wait lists for all laboratories that fit their schedule. These wait lists are filled on a first come, first served basis. For the first week of labs we can accommodate the student with another time slot (students must attend lab the first week of classes). We typically do have a few spots open up in the first week due to drops or schedule changes.

I really, really, really need to take CHEM 010 this semester, and the only lab that fits my schedule is full. Can you just make an exception this once?  CHEM 010 labs are capped at 24 students for safety reasons. This is a hard rule and there are no exceptions. Unfortunately, due to finite resources and widely varying demand for CHEM 010, we cannot guarantee that all students will be able to find a lab section that fits their schedule.

I'm pretty uncertain about my math and science background.  How will I know if I am prepared for CHEM 010?   In terms of math expectations, CHEM 010 requires only an understanding of high school algebra.  

Should I take CHEM 10 in my first semester at Swarthmore?  This depends on your expectations with respect to further work in the Department.  If you believe that you might wish to major in Chemistry or Biochemistry, then you are strongly encouraged to take Chemistry 010 or 010 HN in your first semester at the College.  While it is possible to start the major as a sophomore, the sequential nature of the curriculum makes this a more difficult proposition.  CHEM 010 and 10HN are only offered in the Fall semester, so there is no opportunity to delay to a Chemistry course for only one semester.   If you are certain that you are taking Chemistry only to meet the requirements of an allied science discipline such as Biology, Neuroscience, or Engineering, or to meet the pre-medical requirements, then you have more flexibility.  Approximately 45% of the enrollment in Chemistry 10 in any year is non-first year students. 

I'm interested in majoring in Chemistry.  What courses should I take in my first two years?  The ideal schedule for someone interested in majoring in Chemistry will be to complete CHEM 010 or 010 HN, CHEM 22 (Organic Chemistry I), CHEM 32 (Organic Chemistry II), and CHEM 38 (Biological Chemistry). These courses would be taken, in sequence, in the first four semesters.   In addition, prospective majors should make progress towards meeting the prerequisites for the required courses in physical chemistry by completing two semesters of physics (Physics 3 or 3L and Physics 4 or 4L), and mathematics through multivariable calculus (Math 33 or 34).      

I'm interested in majoring in Biochemistry.  What courses should I take in my first two years?  The ideal schedule for someone interested in majoring in Biochemistry will be to complete CHEM 010 or 010HN, CHEM 22 (Organic Chemistry I), CHEM 32 (Organic Chemistry II), and CHEM 38 (Biological Chemistry). These courses would be taken, in sequence, in the first four semesters.  Prospective Biochemistry majors should also complete BIO 1 and BIO 2.   In addition, Biochemistry prospective majors should make progress towards meeting the prerequisites for a required course in physical chemistry by completing two semesters of physics (Physics 3 or 3L and Physics 4 or 4L), and two or more semesters of calculus.  

I'm interested in studying abroad for a semester.  Is that possible for a Chemistry or a Biochemistry major?  Yes!  Studying abroad for a semester is compatible with a Chemistry or a Biochemistry major, but careful advanced planning is essential.  Some semesters are much easier to accommodate than others because of the sequential nature of the curriculum.   It is rare to find Chemistry or Biochemistry courses abroad that will substitute for our major requirements, either because of language barriers, or laboratory credit problems, or both.  Chemistry or Biochemistry majors who study abroad generally arrange their schedules so that they do not need to enroll in Chemistry or Biochemistry courses abroad.  Hence, the need for careful advanced planning. We suggest early consultation with a member of the Department if this is an option that you would like to pursue.

How do I get involved in a research lab?  How soon can I get involved?    Each November the Department organizes an event at which the faculty who are interested in accepting students into their labs in the coming year make brief presentations.  Following this event, there is an opportunity for students to visit with individual faculty and then to fill out a brief form that details student interests for a position during the spring, summer, or following fall semester. The faculty will accommodate as many requests as possible given the availability of space and funding, with some preference for upper class students.  It is possible to participate in research for credit during the academic year, or during the summer, for a stipend.  Some students also work out informal arrangements to work in a lab during the academic year without academic credit.  Participating in a research project is not required to graduate with a Chemistry or Biochemistry major.  There is a Research Thesis option within both majors, however, and the Honors Research Thesis is an expected part of the Chemistry Honors major and the Biochemistry Honors Major.   

How does the Honors Program in Chemistry work?  To graduate with an Honors major in Chemistry, you must successfully stand for three external exams in Chemistry, and a fourth exam in a minor field.   We expect that the three exams in Chemistry will consist of one exam based on an Honors Research Thesis, and two exams based on 100-level seminars in the Department.  

How does the Honors Program in Biochemistry work?  To graduate with an Honors major in Biochemistry, you must successfully stand for four exams.   Since Biochemistry is an interdisciplinary special major, there is no minor field within the Honors program.   The four external exams are based on: (1) a biochemically-relevant seminar completed within the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department; (2) a seminar completed within the Biology Department; (3) an Honors Research Thesis completed within either Department; (4) one additional seminar completed within either Department.